"TORB Terroir-ises SA" – (The 2004 South Australian Tour Diary) Chapter One can be found here
Chapter Two – The Barossa – Friday
Up early this morning and it was surprising to see John in such fine form considering the way he looked when he staggered off to bed. He was kind enough to make a short black espresso for me and a cup of tea for Sue. We threw the luggage into the car and left just after seven. John must have thought we were going for a couple of weeks as his case was bigger than mine and I was to be away for ten days. On reflection, I recognised the cunning genius of his plan. He could hide a couple of dozen bottles in his case and when we got back, Sue would not see us carrying them into the house and would be none the wiser. That man is smarter than the average bear!
You see strange things in the small back water towns …..
There are two main ways to get from McLaren Vale to the Barossa: through Adelaide, which is longer and has freeway at the start and after you have passed through the city; and the shorter, scenic route through Hahndorf, Birdwood and Williamstown. I made an executive decision and decided we should take the latter. John may have looked like he was in fine form but he was a little quieter than normal during the drive. Shortly after we started, I asked him to stop so we could buy a bottle of water. About half way there the message sunk in, or possibly we stopped because he wanted an ice coffee flavoured milk. Judging by the look of him, it must have been more a case of the latter than the former. If there is one thing the Meat Pie King loves almost as much as pies, it is iced coffee milk. I can not ever recall a day going past, when I have been with him that he has not consumed one, if not two cartons, of caffeine flavoured moo juice. When I mentioned the possibility of a nice looking, gooey, cream topped pastry; he looked a delightful shade of white.
As we were driving, my phone rang and it was Lynne. More bad news for her, her car had serious problems and would be off the road for sometime. About ten years ago, when I had a major dingle in my car, Lynne’s husband was kind enough to lend me his car. My dad has an old car he leaves at my place to use when he visits, so under the circumstances, the least I could do was lend it to Lynne. The only problem was I had the keys in my pocket. When we arrived in Lyndoch, I went into the post office to send the keys. John went to the Lyndoch bakery, which I am told by people who know about these things, is highly regarded for their pies and placed our order.
By the time I arrived at the bakery my “strong” (sic) coffee was just arriving along with John’s cappuccino but where was the King's Meat Pie? Morning play time and no pie, the King must be sick! He said he did not need one, but I think he scoffed one when I wasn’t looking because he certainly looked a lot better than he did ten minutes previously.
Our first appointment at 10 am was at the Jacobs Creek Visitors Centre which is the home of more than just Jacobs Creek wine. Orlando is there too and I just love their topend reds. In the past, I had a very good relationship with the previous CD manager and was able to try a number of pre-release wines. I had made a formal appointment with Uby, the current CD manager and specifically asked in my email to try any up-coming releases. Uby had rung the night before to apologise as he would be unable to make the meeting as something had come up but he had designated Maria to look after us.
Maria ushered us into a private tasting room and explained she was reasonably new to wine and if we had any questions that she could not answer she would find out the answers for us later. Maria, despite her lack of detailed knowledge was certainly friendly and tried to be helpful. The genuinely warm personality certainly makes her ideal for the job, even though she admitted to not liking reds much. Once again, here was another winery that does not understand that I “do not do c-though” and there was an impressive looking bottle of the stuff available for tasting, naturally I declined. However the Meat Pie King is not proud and was happy to give it a go.
Jacobs Creeks 2001 Reserve Shiraz sells for $14.99 at CD. Pure, obvious fruit delivers plum, spice and chocolate with good intensity but the wine finishes half way through the back of the palate. Ample in weight, with a firm, supple consistency, the structure is solid and is backed by smooth, powdery tannins and fresh acid. Throw in a good mouth feel, an agreeable complexity together with its fruit driven nature and it is easy to see why the wine is so popular. Rated as Agreeable with **** for value, it is good for the price.
Jacobs Creeks 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $14.99 at CD. Purple in colour with a bright hue, the fruit driven nose is lovely with rich plummy fruit, blackcurrant and chocolate which is faithfully reproduced on the palate and finishes dry. No wonder this wine sells so well! It is ample weight, clean and well constructed with smooth tannins and the obvious strong fruit provides a harmonious, agreeable complexity. It’s a good food wine and whilst it is drinking well now, it may improve short term and is rated as Recommended with **** for value.
When Maria threatened me with opening a bottle of Orlando 1998 Centenary Hill Shiraz, I knew this visit was a good idea. I was not very impressed with the 94 but could see its charms, liked the 95 and loved the 96 with its over the top opulence. The 97 was a product of the lacklustre vintage conditions and I was really looking forward to seeing what they were going to do with the 98. The wine is expected to be released in June and should be able to be found for about $47 on special. The bouquet was a surprise with its classy fruit. If the 96 was an in your face Dolly Parton wine, this was an Elle McPherson job. Pure blackberry, plum, cherry and dark chocolate fruit lingers beautifully and finishes dry. The wine is ample weight with a firm, supple consistency and the deceptive, very fine, smooth, slightly dusty tannins which create a lovely mouth feel. The structure is solid, shows some elegance and is tight. A very solid wine that is well constructed and seriously good, its rated as Excellent with **** for value. This one will make my cellar!
Jacobs Creeks 1998 Limited Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon blend can be found for $47.50 on special. I tried this wine prior to release two years previously and was most impressed so when it was offered again, I was interested to see how it was progressing. The bouquet is refined and classy with wonderful complexity; the balance between fruit and smoky oak is excellent. Dusty, smooth tannins produce a firm backbone and solid structure. Pure, deep, strong fruit sneaks slowly across the palate and builds through a long finish of layered flavours including plum, chocolate, blackberry and mint. No doubt, the complexity of flavour will build in time but it is already harmonious and sophisticated. The wine is muscular in weight and is still very tight. This is a high quality drop, in fact its seriously good stuff and when the tannins integrate, it should be fantastic. Rated as Excellent with **** for value, the rating should increase as it matures in 2009 and beyond.
I have a love-hate relationship with Orlando. Some time ago, as a consumer, I was surprised to find that I had more of their product in my cellar than any other producer. That is because there are multiple vintages of St Hugo, Lawson, Limited, Centenary Hill and Jacaranda stashed away. Add to that the value aspect of their wines and I am a happy customer. However, as a person who visits cellar door to review their wine I get very frustrated. Before I visited the winery, I contacted the head marketing man and spelt out exactly what I was trying to achieve with my visit. It was suggested I contact the CD manger and I did so, once again spelling out what I was trying to achieve.
I fully understand that Uby was unable to meet me and that is not an issue. However, what I cannot fathom is the “marketing” by this organisation. Prior to the appointment, I specifically asked to try any up-coming releases. When I was there I asked about the 2001 St Hugo and 98 Jacaranda. Maria informed me that both were not going to be released for some time and were not available for tasting. To her credit, when I asked again, Maria made a phone call to double check but the request was denied. A few days after I visited, the 1998 Jacaranda was being advertised by a number of retailers. Within a week of that, a number of journalists were publishing tasting notes from samples of the 2001 St Hugo, 1998 Jacaranda and 1999 Lawson that had been sent by Orlando. The company also had held tasting for some of their retailers and these notes were being posted on the Internet.
Yet, despite that negative, they opened the 1998 Centenary Hill which will probably be the last one in that list to be released. I just do not understand their marketing logic, but heck what would I know about marketing? Possibly, I should all be thankful for the current marketing situation at Orlando because it could just be responsible for their top wines being so ‘sensibly’ priced!
Another winery I have mixed feelings over is St Hallett, although in recent times, the feelings have been a lot more positive than negative. The lower cost wines have been reasonable value for some time, but for many years the Old Block has failed to impress, even when I have had it in a totally blind line up. I heard an interesting theory behind the Old Block from a credible source. Apparently, some years ago St Hallett’s were buying old vine grapes from some growers for use in the Old Block. The growers were not happy with the price paid by St Hallett and Grant Burge has got the grapes since then. They are now used in Meshach. An interesting theory indeed!
The winery is now part of the Lion Nathan Group and the old cellar door is hardy recognisable. John was decidedly unimpressed with the large winery that is being built to handle much of the group’s processing requirements (including Tatachilla). Bob McLean may have departed, but long time stalwart, Stewart Blackwell is still there flying the flag.
St Hallett Black Shiraz NV (disgorged 2000) sells for $42.50 and according to the staff is only available at cellar door. If that is the case, then how did I get mine from Australian Wine Brokers in Canberra for $27.50? The wine exhibits very youthful fruit. It is a lovely wine with the sweetness coming from the fruit rather than from confected residual sugar. The wine has good tannin structure and balance with savoury flavours on the uptake. Ample in weight, the complexity is well developed and it is drinking well now but could gain further complexity with bottle age. Rated as Recommended with * for value at $42.50 or *** for value at a more realistic $27.50.
St Hallett 2002 Faith Shiraz sells for $19.40 at CD. Purple in colour, the hue is vibrant and the aroma shows obvious dusty oak with black fruit and floral perfumed soap. The smooth tannins are unobtrusive and produce a soft consistency. Ample in weight, the pure, obvious fruit drives the wine and the dusty oak on the bouquet is not replicated on the palate. It is very clean with intense black fruit flavours and could best be described as a perfect restaurant crowd pleaser with a good mouth feel. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
St Hallett 2000 Third Century Shiraz sells for $34 at CD. I must admit this wine was a little different to most and I liked it but it will be a hard sell in the market. Medium weight, the tannins are smooth, slightly dusty and unobtrusive but have enough stuffing to provide a firm consistency and solid structure. The acid is piquant and the pure fruit displays a very savoury attack over an underlying layer of raspberry sweetness with added diverse complexity from spice and chocolate. Medium weight, it’s in the lighter style of wine and a good result from a difficult vintage. Rated as Recommended with ** for value, the rating may improve as the wine matures around 2007.
St Hallett 2001 Blackwell Shiraz sells for $26.90 at CD. Dark purple in colour, the hue is bright. Although this wine is driven by pure, strong, obvious, dark black fruit flavours with spice and aniseed, it still has some class. Smooth, very fine-grained tannins hold it together. The structure is deceptively good and enhanced by the well-developed complexity and long finish. It’s fantastic for the price; rated as (just) Highly Recommended with **** for value.
St Hallett 2000 Old Block Shiraz sells for $54 at CD. This note will be briefer than most as we were looking like we would be late for our next appointment. The wine has a very interesting flavour profile with sweet and savoury layers that finishes long. It is ample in weight and is solidly backed with fine grain, dusty, drying tannins which need time to integrate. There is some elegance to the wine which is further enhanced by its well-developed complexity. It is a good wine (but not for me) and is rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, it should hit its straps in 2007+.
Grant Burge winery was next on the agenda and I have always said that the cellar door operation was a class act and one of the benchmarks in Australia. An appointment was made because I was hoping to get some further insights into the winery, its philosophy, its history but above all, its winemaking and people. We were met by Chris Crago who is their new Marketing Relations Executive. Chris took us on a tour of the outside of the property and told us a little bit more about the place. Below cellar door, there is a large area that is hired out for function and is often used for weddings. As you can see from the photos, it is very picturesque. There is also a large expanse of open green lawn which is used to play cricket from time to time. Grant is a sponsor of the SA Cricket association.
For those that have not been to the winery, the CD has a highly polished wooden floor, the counter top is solid, dark timber, there is a foot rail and the whole thing looks like a very high class hotel bar. The view over the gardens is colourful and is also a little different, as it’s not all grape vines. As usual, the complete range of wine was available for tasting.
Grant Burge 2002 Hillcott Merlot sells for $15.95 at CD. The nose was pretty typical Merlot but the palate was a bit of a surprise. It was savoury but slightly austere with plums, savoury berry fruit and chocolate. Medium in weight, the consistency is supple, and the complexity agreeable. It is a good wine with some structure provided by dusty tannins. It should peak in a year or two and is rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Grant Burge 2001 Cameron Vale Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $18.50 at CD. Smokey oak dominates ripe berry fruit. The palate is varietally correct with the obvious fruit pleasantly presenting black and blueberry fruit, subtle cigar box, chocolate and a leafy green finish. The wine is ample in weight, slightly powdery tannins provide backbone, and the complexity is agreeable. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Grant Burge 2001 Miamba Shiraz sells for $18.50 at CD. Youthful aromas of toasty oak over ripe fruit are replicated on the palate with a toasty uptake followed by sweet and savoury flavours on the mid palate that finishes long with very black flavours. Not just another wine, the structure is layered and solid whilst the complexity is very well developed. Smart for the price, this wine relies on complexity and structure for interest (and would have been much harder to make than the next wine, the 01 Filsell.) rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Grant Burge 2001 Filsell Shiraz sells for $26.95 at CD. With its toasted oak and rich fruit, it seems a higher quality wine than the Miamba. In reality, it relies more on its obvious, distinct pure fruit for its appeal. Rich, intense blackberry fruit with toasted oak produces a harmonious, agreeable level of complexity. It is muscular with a supple consistency; in short a very nice wine that’s drinking well now. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Grant Burge 2002 Filsell Shiraz has not been released yet. So far, this is the best wine of the line up and John wanted to place his order on the spot. The perfumed, youthful, fruity bouquet was clearly letting the fruit speak and the oak is overt, rather than covert. On the palate, it was no surprise to find the driving force was pure, distinct, deep, strong fruit which delivered blackberry, savoury meat, aniseed and chocolate with good length. The balance between fruit and the fine grained, smooth, dusty tannin was also good. Ample in weight, the complexity is well developed and whilst it is drinking well now, it will improve in the short to medium term. It is clean, it is solid and you are crazy if you miss it. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should go up as the wine matures.
Grant Burge 1998 MSJ 03 is one of the experimental wines Grant is working on and sells for $56 at CD. It is a blend of 54% Shiraz from the Filsell vineyard and 46% Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra. This wine captivates the olfactory senses; it is just delightful with juicy fruit, chocolate and a lower layer of slightly toasted oak. The more you smell it, the more you notice the complexity and class of the wine. Abundant, duty drying tannins are well balanced to the fresh acid and first class, pure, deep, strong fruit. The wonderful structure is enhanced by the mouth feel. Sweet and savoury waves of flavour surf the palate with excellent persistence and ride through a long minty, leafy finish. Ample weight, the fruit is powerful and produces a well developed, sophisticated complexity. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, the wine should be long lived and should peak in 2008+. I walked away from this wine with a tiny niggling doubt in the back of my mind but was unable to pin down what was causing it. I would love to drink a glass or two over time to do it the justice it deserves.
Grant Burge 2002 Balthasar is the first release of a new wine; it’s a Shiraz with 7% Viognier and sells for $32 at CD. Purple in colour with a bright hue, there is sweet honeysuckle and spice overshadowing typical Shiraz components. Ample in weight, the abundant, dusty, drying tannins back a solid structure and the obvious fruit contributes a diverse complexity. An upfront hit of stewed apricot sweetness goes into savoury black fruit flavours, spice and plenty of meatiness. It is a good food wine and whilst I do not like the style, it is a fairly serious attempt at this blend. It should develop well and think I would enjoy it when mature. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures in 2007+.
…………………..Courtyard is used for receptions
Grant Burge 1999 Shadrach sells for $39.95 at CD. I was looking forward to trying this wine as I either love it, like the 96, or dislike it, like the 98 which I found overly sweet. This wine is a blend of Coonawarra (67%), Barossa (25%) and Adelaide Hills 8% and is a varietal Cabernet rather than just a nice red. The palate flavours are leafy, blackcurrant, blackberry, chocolate and mint. There is loads of green flavours but none of it capsicum or unripe, more in the mint, eucalyptus and leafy spectrum. The dusty tannins produce a very firm consistency; the wine is ample weight and has a well developed complexity. It’s a complete wine with excellent length and is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, drink from 2008.
Grant Burge 1999 Meshach Shiraz sells for $89.95 at CD. I tried this wine last year and was mighty impressed with it, impressed enough to fork out for a six pack. This wine has great structure and pure, deeply seated, strong fruit. The dark chocolate, plum, blackberry, mocha and aniseed just repeats itself and repeats itself; in fact it repeats itself more than a bad dose of mother-in-law. Abundant fine tannins build the backbone, the acid is still youthful and the fruit provides an intricate, sophisticated complexity. A very classy wine with great length that is currently rated as Excellent with *** for value, the rating should improve to Outstanding as it matures around 2009+. This was one of the best wines of the trip.
As we were leaving, Chris handed me a folder with a price list, an order form, the latest news letter, tasting notes on the wines, a list of awards and trophies, and a list of reviewers’ comments. I am not quite sure what to make of this, possibly they feel I don’t have the ability to write my own tasting notes without help. Whatever; whilst it was, as always, an enjoyable experience there was one negative: I did not achieve my objective of getting a better understanding of the winery which would enable me to write a more interesting story. Luckily the wines are so good. Unexpectedly, my next appointment would make up for it.
It was well past pie o’clock and John wasn’t even complaining so he must have been enjoying himself. As we left the winery, the gods were looking after me as John’s phone rang, so I drove, and he who is driving gets to decide where we stop for lunch. I pulled up outside an excellent little café in the main street of Tanunda that serves real sandwiches; they even bake their own bread. I ordered a turkey and salad on a brown roll (with no onion) and his ‘pieship’ only ordered one meat pie. Is the King sick? When I asked him about it, he said, “The good thing about a meat pie is that you can always get another one.” After he has scoffed it in two quick breaths, (and this is the man that always comments on how quickly I eat) he headed back inside for a second one.
A few minutes later he came out with one, that even my untrained pie eye, could tell was different. He was muttering something about it being nice for a chicken pie. And of course, he had a carton of coffee flavoured moo juice and I had a strong black coffee, I have to keep that caffeine level up or I will be smelling coffee in all the wines.
The Tanunda Pub is located almost across the road from the café and is John’s preferred place of residence in the valley. As we had time before our next appointment we decided to fix our accommodation. When John checked in, he was warned “it could be a bit noisy tonight and tomorrow night.” That’s like saying “the Pope is a bit catholic.” But what do you want for $40?
On the other hand, I like the peace and quiet of the Weinetal which is clean, has internet access, is reasonably appointed and about a 1,000% improvement on the pub. When I asked about the rates, I was told it was normally $105 for a single but they could do it for $87. I said that I was sure I paid $80 last year and the receptionist said she could do it for that rate. I got the impression, as long as the price I quoted was higher than the hotel paying me for the privilege of staying there, it would have been acceptable. After throwing my luggage in the room, it was off to our next appointment.
A few years ago I first visited The Willows Vineyard and was impressed with the value for the quality produced. In those days, their wines were in the low $20’s. Recently at a wineshop I noticed the winery had released a premium wine which received favourable reviews and prompted an appointment to visit. Along the way, we passed Scholz Road so it was a fair guess the family had been around the Barossa for some time and it turned out, that “some time” was seven generations. The winery is not exactly on the normal tourist path and is located at the northern end of Light Pass road. The Cellar Door is at the end of a fairly long driveway which is surrounded by a sea of vines.
As we pulled into the car park, at the back of the building, we noticed an elderly lady with her back to us enjoying the autumn sunshine. She had her feet up on a stool and was contentedly reading a book. Without turning around, with quiet grace and dignity, she put one foot on the ground, then the other, placed a bookmark into the book, laid it on the footstool and slowly rose to her feet and headed through the back door of the building.
When we walked into the building the lady said “thank you for coming; we really appreciate visitors who take the trouble to find us as we are off the beaten tourist track.”
We introduced ourselves and apologised for being a little early (something that doesn’t often happen on one of these trips). She apologised because Peter was not there as he was picking up his child.
At that stage we did not know her name but suspected she was a family member and so we enquired where she fitted into the picture. The answer was “I am the matriarch, but don’t tell my son I said that!” We chatted for awhile whilst we were trying the wines. It turns out the preceding five generations of the family were all in the medical profession, the original, Johann being a “bone setter” who settled in the area in 1845. In 1883, his original residence became the first private hospital in the area.
According to Mrs Scholz, there are still medical textbooks in the house from the 1860’s and that they were very advanced for their time.” (I want to know how she knows that.) We decided to start with their Sparkling Shiraz and when John saw Mrs Scholz wrestling with the cork, he offered to help. She was horrified! “I will lose my job if my son knows I can’t get the corks out.”
The Cellar Door ……………………………
At that point, conversation drifted to the wines and I had a question which Mrs Scholz answered more than adequately and then added “but as you will understand, they only tell me what they want to tell me. “ By the way she was banging on about her son, we expected a two headed ogre. However, when Peter arrived it was obvious he doted on the old dear. Mrs Scholz senior is a real character and it was worth the trip to cellar door just to chat with her.
The vineyard was first planted in 1936 and they now have 100 acres under vines. For many years, the grapes from the family vineyard were being sold to Peter Lehmann; in fact, they were one of Lehmann’s original grape growers. In 1979 Peter Scholz went to work with Peter Lehmann at Saltram. Then, in 1987 he made the first Willows Shiraz and the cellar door was opened in 1989. Ten years later, The Willows became Peter’s full time occupation. The wines are all from a single vineyard.
It is interesting to note, growers starting to make their own wine is not such a recent phenomenon after all. Now onto the wines.
The Willows “The Doctor” Sparkling Red” is an unusual blend of 75% Shiraz and Pinot Noir and is available only from CD for $30. I like this wine but John did not think much of it. There is some excellent fruit sweetness with blackcurrant and chocolate that finishes nicely. It’s a drink now proposition and has good complexity for the price. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
………. The Old and the Not So Old
The Willows 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $23 at CD and 6,000 cases were made. This is a well crafted, varietal Cabernet with no sharp edges that is drinking well now but does not stand out from the pack. It is also a good food wine. Abundant, dusty, drying tannins are well matched with obvious fruit that delivers warm, ripe, blackberry, chocolate, subtle aniseed, hints of leafy tomato and eucalyptus on a respectable finish. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
The Willows 2001 Shiraz sells for $23 at CD. Very sensible oak treatment, using tight grained oak has resulted in fine grained tannins and an attractive mouth feel. The fruit, which is distinct, pure and strong has been allowed to express itself showing black flavours. Intense, spicy pepper, dark black fruit, and dark chocolate with some (not unattractive) charry oak producing a well-developed complexity in this muscular wine. It is well crafted and ready to drink now and is rated as Recommended with **** for value.
The Willows 2001 The Bone Setter Shiraz sells for $45 at CD. The fruit is from a small percentage of the 35 years old vines and the wine is matured in 100% new French oak for over two years. The nose on this wine was closed tighter than a cryogenic container. This is a classy wine that needs time. Tannins are slightly dusty, fine-grained and produce a smart mouth feel. The obvious, persistent, deep fruit produces a savoury plate profile. Intense dark, bitter chocolate, plums and aniseed flavours have enough oomph to carry the charry oak. Whilst the lingering flavour is attractive, it does stop short on the back palate. The wine is muscular in weight, has a solid structure and a well developed complexity, it should peak in about 2007. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
One of the things I love about touring the wine regions of SA is the sense of history that pervades the wine business. Our next appointment is also steeped in history. Yalumba was established in 1849 and is Australia’s largest and oldest family-owned winery. Robert Hill-Smith is the 5th generation of the family to head the business. In 1989 Robert and his brother Sam bought out the other family members and restructured the business. From everything I can gather, whilst Robert sees himself in charge of the business he also sees himself as the caretaker of the heritage and history of a living, dynamic being. This caretaker role is foremost in his mind when running the organisation because if the heritage is lost, it will be lost for all time.
After I posted the last Tour Diary, Robert asked me to contact him next time I was visiting the winery so they could show me a more complete part of the range. Unfortunately Robert was overseas during my visit but he deputised Jane Ferrari to look after me. We arrived at the appointed time and walked into a formal office reception area. The receptionist asked us to wait in the (well appointed) “visitors lounge”, whilst we waited for Jane. Now this introduction was not the normal reception one gets at wineries, it was more of a formal, upmarket corporate office approach, impressive stuff.
When one thinks of a Ferrari, because of the image associated with the car manufacturer, one normally conjures up an image of sleek, aerodynamic, fast, sophistication. Add to that, the ambiance of the “visitors lounge” and I guess I had a preset idea of what to expect. Never have I been so wrong in my life! Jane, who was not exactly the image I had conjured up in my mind, walked in and introduced herself. Let’s just say, she is “down-to-earth and a straight-shooting type”. Introductions were made and Jane had a bound folder which she had prepared for me with information sheets on the wines she thought I would like. She stated that we would start off with a Riesling when I interrupted and apologised because I don’t do c-throughs.
She slapped the binder on the table, bent over, with great force ripped out the first page and said “well that makes my job easier then!” With just as much force she ripped out the next page and muttered some comment about my parentage. And then another page was forcibly extracted with comments about what I was missing out on. And so it went.
I thought, my God, what have I got myself into here. This was scary stuff and as John later pointed out, what was even scarier was that this person was the public face of Yalumba. As we wandered over to the private tasting room, Jane told us she was on her way to Perth for a trade tasting and that she spent most of her life on the road promoting Yalumba. Frequently, when speaking to winemakers they are passionate about their craft but Jane was far more than just passionate. Besides being a winemaker it was immediately obvious that here was a person whose total passion (well almost ) was wine and the company which she loves like her own. Jane obviously eats, breathes and sleeps Yalumba. Within minutes, she had both of us eating out of her hand and we knew why she deserved to be the public face of Yalumba.
The “Family Tasting Room” was festooned with cricket memorabilia and horsey stuff. John said “the cricket bats were obviously there to hit uncooperative tasters (like me) over the head so they could be kept in line. Whilst we were tasting and I was concentrating on the wine, John was having the time of his life with Jane and they were trading jokes and stories. It turns out that Jane loves Tequila and she said “for god sake, don’t tell Robert that or I will lose my job.” Don’t worry Jane; your secret is safe with me!
The Same Yalumba Trees - The Same Week in May
2004 VS 2003.......
Jane has a very interesting vinous background. She enrolled at Roseworthy to learn winemaking and went through with the likes of, Chris Ringland, Rolf Binder, Peter Barry, Martin Shaw, Drew Noon, Nick Walker, and David O’Leary. Jane freely admits to being “the black sheep of the class.” She fell in love with brandy making and was apprenticed to John Glaetzer for three years. According to Jane, “John Glaetzer is a bloody star.” After that, she went to Tolley and spent three years there learning how to do “unnatural things with distilling.” In 1988 Jane joined Yalumba in the bottling quality control area. In 1990 and 1991 she worked on the night shift crush but as there were no winemaker jobs at Yalumba she departed and went to work for Rockford. According to Jane, working at Rockford was learning the history of Australian winemaking. (That will be covered further in a later chapter of the tour diary that covers my visit to Rockford.)
In 1996 Jane returned to Yalumba. For the past three years, she has spent seven months of each year away from home as a winemaker/marketing person. For those that have seen the movie, “Support Your Local Sheriff” staring James Garner, the most famous line in the movie is “I am on my way to Australia.” During this meeting with Jane, I was reminded of that movie with her adapted line “I am on my way to Perth,” which came out more frequently than the corks from the wines and James Garner was able to utter in the movie. Before getting onto the tasting notes, I have one comment from Jane which sums up her feelings perfectly and explains why she does what she does so well, “I have the best job in the Australian wine industry.”
Yalumba Y Series 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon can be found for under $10. I must admit, when offered a $10 red I normally pass as most of them do not exactly excite me. However, in this case I was scared to refuse and I am now glad that I did not do so. The bouquet was pleasantly varietal. It is a clean wine that has good fruit as the driving force but sufficient tannin to back it up. The uptake is very savoury with sweet underlying fruit and liquorice that finishes with good length and persistency. It is medium weight, has a supple, almost fleshy consistency and is a damn good wine for the price. Rated as Agreeable with ***** for value. One of the best under $10 wine I have tried in awhile.
Yalumba 2002 Barossa Bush Vine Grenache retails for $14 at CD. Fruit is cropped at 3-4 tons per acre, mainly from the Barossa floor. An interesting flavour profile with raspberry that is offset by savoury pepper. Tannins are unobtrusive and the refreshing acid will compliment lamb dishes that have some fat. Consistency is soft, the complexity agreeable and the weight medium. Rated as Acceptable with *** for value.
Yalumba 2002 Tri-Centenary Barossa Valley Grenache sells for $32 at CD and is part of the Hand Picked Series. This new series of premium wines has been a personal crusade of Robert’s and one that is very near to his heart. The fruit comes from a single vineyard that was planted in 1889 and is cropped at 1/12-2 tons per acre. Purple in colour with a light hue, the bouquet is raspberry and perfumed rose petal powder. Tannins are silky; the pure fruit presents savoury characters which flow through to raspberry and milk chocolate which finishes with refreshing acid. Consistency is supple, almost silky and the complexity harmonious. It is almost lean in body weight, and not your average Grenache, in fact I cannot button-hole it because it is so different. A high quality wine that will get better, it is rated as Recommended with ** for value. It is directly aimed at the restaurant market where good food is served and people want a wine that will not overshadow the food.
Yalumba 2001 Barossa Shiraz retails for $14 at CD and has 5% Viognier added which is not cofermented. I was not particularly impressed with this wine. Whilst it was easy drinking with a savoury uptake and sweet underlying mid palate, the wine finished bitter. It is medium weight, has an almost soft consistency and simple complexity. Rated as Acceptable with ** for value.
Yalumba Hand Picked 2002 Barossa Shiraz Viognier sells for $30. I have never been a fan of the “party style” in your face overt Shiraz Viognier blends but I do like them when they are subtle and well made. It has been very interesting to watch this wine evolve, from the first vintage which was a bit clumsy, to a position where it is now one of the better examples of this blend. The Shiraz fruit comes from 60-70 year old vines in the Eden Valley. The nose is classy and was initially closed. The fruit is lovely, showing real purity and depth. Blackberry, chocolate and subtle Viognier apricot lingers below the surface with cigar box and liquorice that finishes with excellent length. The effect of the French oak on the very fine grained, smooth tannins are obvious. This is a classy, medium weight wine with a solid structure and a well developed, sophisticated, complexity. When I asked John what he thought of it, his nose did not move out of the glass as he muttered “sensational.” This label is getting better with every vintage and is worth buying to cellar. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures over the next three years.
We had the opportunity of revisiting this wine a few hours later over dinner. It had opened up to reveal its full glory, it had become smoother and had gained weight, all good signs.
Yalumba 2001 Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz retails for $14 at CD and is a 60 /40 blend. An easy drinking BBQ wine that has a supple backbone and an agreeable level of complexity, it is mid weight. Tannins are smooth, the acid refreshing and the obvious fruit is sweet on the uptake, savoury on the mid palate and has a dark chocolate finish. Rated as Agreeable with **** for value, its drinking well now.
Yalumba Vinnovations 2001 Tempranillo at Cellar door sells for $18. Another wine I can not pigeon hole but I am a rank amateur with this grape variety. The pure, distinct fruit is savoury with chocolate, liquorice and is offset with some underlying fruit sweetness. Acid is crisp, the consistency is rich and the unobtrusive dusty tannins finish dry and long. Initially the wine was medium weight, but as the wine had air time, the tannins built up in intensity. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Yalumba Hand Picked 2002 M/G/S sells for $30 and is the newest member of the Hand Picked Series; this is the first release. It is a blend 60/25/15% blend. This wine reminds me of a gangly teenage athlete, all the components, or the structure are there but they need to mature and come together before they can show their true grace. There is nothing subtle about this wine with its loads of drying, fine, dusty tannins, and obvious, strong fruit; the acid is refreshing. Muscular in weight, the structure is rock solid, and the complexity intricate. An interesting flavour profile of initial raspberry sweetness that immediately turns savoury and meaty with pepper and fruit of the forest berry flavours that finish with long drying tannins. An hour later, the fruit seemed to be more intense and was sticking its head above the tannins. Given all of that, it could be stunning and it would be worth cellaring a few till 2009 which should be about the time to try it again. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating could improve as the wine matures.
Yalumba 1999 The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $40 at cellar door. After we had finished the tasting, whilst driving back into town, I asked John what he thought of this one and said he didn’t like it. I am not surprised. At this juncture, it is hard to like, however that does not mean that it is not a good wine and worth cellaring. The first words I wrote when assessing it were, “very smart structure, classy wine, well built, needs years.” The note went on to state “Excellent length but showing less leg than an 18th century lady, cassis, mint but showing little except structure.” The wine is muscular in weight, the acid is fresh and the pure fruit is currently buried by the abundant fine tannins. Structure is tight and elegant. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures after 2010. Drink it in seven years and the chances are you will be glad you bought it.
Yalumba 1999 The Signature sells for $45 at cellar door but can be found around the traps in the low $30’s. Another wine with terrific structure but this one has more overt fruit showing. Bucket loads of very fine tannins, lively acid and obvious, deep, fruit combine to form a muscular weight, solid wine. Coffee, chocolate, plums, blackberry and liquorice flavours add a sophisticated complexity and finish long. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value (based on the average street price) the rating should improve as the wine matures in 2008+.
Whilst I was trying this wine, the conversation moved to the Yalumba 1996 The Reserve. The wine has a price tag of $100 at CD but I purchased mine for $70 about two years ago. The wine is made from the best 15-20 barrels of Shiraz and Cabernet produced in exceptional vintages. Jane disappeared for a few minutes and came back with a bottle which she kindly opened for us to try. The bouquet jumped out of the glass and bounced around the room as the wine was being poured; you could smell it many feet away. It showed, amongst many things, some VA, briary notes, cassis and liquorice; the complexity was wonderful. The first standout feature was the fruit which showed great purity. Plums, cassis, chocolate and briary flavours combine to form ‘bouncy juicy fruit’ that is still in its primary stage. The persistency of flavour was excellent but to my way of thinking, whilst the tannins had good length, the flavour did not go all the way back on the palate. Hopefully, it should fill out in time. Ample weight, the structure is elegant and should be seamless eventually. With its intricate complexity, the wine is drinking well now but (hopefully) still improving. Rated as Excellent with room to improve as it matures.
Jane Ferrari and The Meat Pie King …………….
Yalumba 1999 Octavius sells for $90 at cellar door. The fruit was harvested at between ½ to 1½ tons per acre and was a mixture of 50% Eden Valley and 50% Barossa floor fruit. The delightful bouquet is floral with char, liquorice, multiple berry aromas and plums. Unlike a number of other young vintages of this wine I have tried, this one is not overloaded with oak! It is a quantum shift from previous vintages and is almost fruit driven by comparison and the fruit is excellent with great intensity and obvious quality. Sweet on the uptake, liquorice, plums, dark chocolate and other subtle flavours are there but the wine needs time to gain complexity. The weight was initially ample, but when tried a few hours later it had put on weight and gained in all departments. No longer can it branded “oaktavius,” it is rated as Excellent with *** for value (at a street price of $75,) the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2009 and beyond.
Towards the end of the tasting, Jane asked where we were having dinner and we said we had booked at Barr-Vinum. Her reply was “The chef’s potato mash with truffle oil is better than watching him walk though to the bathroom in a towel and I live in hope.” After we picked ourselves off the floor and stopped choking on laughter, Jane explained that he used to be her house mate. Jane’s honest, down to earth approach to wine and to life is a winner, and as one of her colleagues at another winery said, which sums it up more succinctly than I ever could, “Jane Ferrari – her blood is worth bottling.”
Jane suggested that we take a number of the open wines with us to look at again over dinner and it was a good move. It provided the opportunity to see how a number of them accompanied food, filled in a few blanks in the tasting notes and enabled a more comprehensive examination of the bigger wines after they had some time to breathe. That’s my story for walking into Barr-Vinum with a box of about ten open bottles of wines under my arm and I am sticking to it!
This was a great experience and certainly showcased a broad cross section of their wines, from the under $10 range right through to the top end. Like all wineries with a huge range, and their range is bigger than most, we only tasted the tip of the iceberg, there were some great wines and some ordinary wines. Overall, it was an impressive line up. There were some drinkable entry level value wines. The Hand Picked range is going to be a label to watch; already two of these wines are contenders. The wines at the top end seem to be getting better with every vintage. That is probably a result of both the restructure and some clever winemakers. If Robert Hill-Smith set out to impress me with the direction the company is taking, he succeeded.
Jane’s final comment just before we left sums up the winery perfectly “The whole of Yalumba just is!”
And she is very much a part of it.
What a great way to finish the day, we left Yalumba on a high and went back into Angaston and dropped the wine off at the restaurant. Then it was back to our hotels for a quick relax prior to going to dinner. I seemed to have just finished downloading my emails (55 offers to buy pharmaceuticals, 44 that were going to save me money on a mortgage, 33 that promised sexual enhancement, 22 that offered to save me money on software and 11 that meant something when there was a knock on the door and it was time to go. We took a taxi to the restaurant for obvious reasons.
When I made the booking, the receptionist informed me they were full but they could fit a table for two in the wine room and that was a very intimate setting for dinner. Just what I need, an intimate setting for two when dining with the Meat Pie King! The restaurant is owned by Bob McLean who used to be the chief at St Hallett prior to the sale to Lion Nathan. It is located in a delightful, quaint old cottage, surrounded by rose bushes and is just across the road from the old Town Hall. Prior to even going to the Barossa, I had seen good write-ups on the place on wine forums (hi Chuck) and our enquiries in the valley had yielded nothing but positive comments. We were both hungry and looking forward to dinner.
When we were shown into the wine room, it was immediately apparent that, unfortunately, the receptionist had not lied to me when I made the booking. The room was a romantic setting. On one side of the room the shelves are loaded with c-through and the other side houses the red. Naturally I sat on the red side. Whilst we were gazing at the wines, and this was prior to having much to drink, in reference to the quality of their wines, John said “The Clare Valley irons out the valleys and the hills year in and year out.” I think I need to meditate on that for a few years.
The service was friendly and attentive. For a starter I ordered the grilled quail with apple radicchio and toasted almond salad with pomegranate reduction ($18). It was superb and whilst it was somewhat oily, the sharpness of the salad cut through the grease. The serving was not exactly huge but it was adequate. John ordered a venison dish of some description and was disappointed. Firstly, he did not realise it was served cold and secondly the serving size would have pleased an anorexic.
The Old Town Hall Across The Road From Barr-Vinum ..
My main course was duck leg confit on a bed of beans with roast parsnips and pear with crispy shallot caramel ($30). That may have sounded a lot of food but the other stuff was just designed to make the duck look and taste good, not fill one up. The potato mash with truffle oil was not on the menu so we ordered the buttered potato with shallots instead ($9).
The duck was cooked to perfection and very tasty. The potato must have contained half a cows worth of butter. My arteries get clogged just thinking about it, but what a way to go. John was in raptures with his steak which was tender and cooked as ordered.
We shared a cheese plate which contained fruit bread, aged cheddar, a goat cheese, and a ripe, soft French brie. The cheese plate was as good as it gets but the amount of bread served with it was not exactly generous. All in all, the quality of the food is unquestionable but the serving sizes of some dishes could be more generous. It is not inexpensive, but it was worth it. They charged us corkage of one bottle of wine per head which was fair because that’s about what we consumed from the line of opened bottles.
What a great way to finish a great day! We sure had packed a lot into it and were both enjoying the silence as we headed back into Tanunda by taxi. John dropped me off, and being a Friday night I expected him to head to the bar and stay there for some time and turn up the next morning looking like something the dog threw up. Stay tuned for Chapter Three for more of the adventures of the Meat Pie King of SA and his trusty sidekick.
Copyright © Ric Einstein 2004