"TORB Terroir-ises SA" – (The 2004 South Australian Tour Diary)
Chapter Seven – McLaren Vale – Wednesday Chapter Six can be found here
I woke up in time to kick the sparrows out of bed this morning so I had plenty of time to catch up on my email and do a bit of wine forum surfing before the rest of the Davis clan surfaced. Once again, John did the right thing and made me a cup of espresso as soon as he got up. Both he and Sue drink not one, but two mugs of tea before they get out of bed to face the day. Vile stuff, give me a short black anytime, who needs all that quantity of liquid when you can have quality. Speaking of vile stuff, his Pieship then proceeded to consume his daily ration of that foul-smelling Indian “health” concoction. Being smarter than the average bear, as it tastes so vile, John decided to try it with milk. You should have seen his face when he took a sip, it was priceless. The “stuff” had curdled the milk instantly but because of the cacky colour and lumpy bits, John could not tell till he tasted it.
John was on his best behaviour and had a healthy breakfast. Two days in a row and the bacon and egg roll and coffee moo juice withdrawal must be almost killing him; he will be looking forward to going back to work so he can have a snack on the way.
My first appointment was at 9.00 with Stuart Miller at Oliverhill. This winery generally does not open the cellar door and the wines sell out within in weeks of release. The prices are very reasonable and no one could ever accuse the owners of being greedy. There is nothing sedate about the wines made here; they are normally high in alcohol and laden with rich, ripe fruit. Just what you need at 9 am to kick-start the palate! When I tried the 2002 Cabernet last year, I commented that I wouldn’t mind seeing how it progressed and Stuart was kind enough to remember the comment and open a bottle for me to try again.
Oliverhill 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon was sold out last year. Dark purple with a bright hue, it is a big wine with rich, dark, black berry fruit flavours. With its bouquet, it was no surprise to find it a big, full-bodied, rustic red with intense, savoury flavours of pepper and blackberry/blackcurrant fruit that finishes with good persistence. The fresh acid provides a lift and the smooth, powdery tannins, good grip. There is a big bang for the buck here and the wine is rated as Recommended with **** for value and the rating may go up as the wine reaches maturity around 2007.
Oliverhill 2002 Durif is an experimental wine, only 20 dozen have been made. The wine has been matured in one and two year old French oak. The wine is very savoury but has a sweet and savoury profile. Solid, drying tannins provide loads of grip but the tannins are green. More work is required but Stuart is dedicated and thorough, so hopefully, in time, he will get it right.
Oliverhill 2003 Shiraz is still in barrel and will be bottled in July. It has a ripe, vibrant, floral nose with liquorice. Chalky tannins combine with deep, pure fruit to form a full-bodied wine with a firm consistency and solid structure. Intense blackberry, prune, aniseed, dark chocolate and coffee show with good intensity. A veritable young pup, it is rated as Recommended with **** for value and the rating may improve as the wine matures.
Oliverhill 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon is still in barrel and will be bottled in July. A pleasant aroma of ripe fruit with loads of chocolate; it too is obviously a big wine. Distinct, strong fruit combines with youthful acid and dusty tannins to form a full-bodied wine with a good, solid structure and well-developed complexity. The rustic palate flavours are almost perfectly varietal with blackberry, dark plum spectrum fruit, cigar box, leafy and minty notes. A good effort and worth buying, it is rated as Recommended with **** for value and the rating should improve as the wine matures in 2009 and beyond.
The winery continues to produce good honest wines that are well-priced but these are reflective of the vintage conditions and not as good as the 2002 wines. Still, without hesitation, at the price they are worth buying.
In passing, we talked about the next door neighbour’s (Tony Delisio) new “shed” which is not exactly the size of a double car garage and is “kinda noticeable” on the landscape. More on that later.
The next winery, Ulithorne was another new one that I had not visited and, although it is geographically very close to many of the McLaren Vale wineries, it is on the other side of the Onkaparinga river and takes about 20 minutes to get there, assuming you do not get lost on the way. As Wednesday is the day my slack staff gets paid, even when they do not deserve it, I rang Lynne to make sure that she had not forgotten how to do the payroll - I live in hope. It turned out that Lynne is still not in good shape, in fact she sounded terrible and her back must be really bad. Doing John’s trick, I feign interest in her well-being and told her not to worry, everything will be OK and the business will not fall apart if she cannot do all her normal duties and a “little bit” of paperwork can wait till I get back. Dear reader, please remember those words when you read the final chapter of this tour diary. Suffice it to say, at this stage that is the last time I will take a leaf from the Pie Kings’ book. (I am not sure if that last emoticon refers more to me or John.)
Ulithorne is located in just off Upper Pennys Hill Road in the Onkaparinga Hills right near the National Park. There is a large amount of residential property in the area but as you approach Rose Kentish and Sam Harrison’s property, the incidence of houses lessens and its big dipper time with the hills and dales. The turnoff is easy to miss; I did but that was because I did not go far enough! Down a windy dirt driveway, with a hill on one side and an empty lake on the other, the area is filled with native vegetation. It is dry, so dry, it is enough to want to make you cry and not just so that your tears may add a bit of moisture to the parched earth. As you come around a bend in the track, nestled between the trees is an old cottage, which has been built into the side of another hill. You are at the bottom of a small, narrow valley and it is beautiful, unspoilt and just as nature had intended it.
I had seen some reasonably positive reports on this new winery so decided to track it down. Ulithorne was the name of the first Irish Catholic priest in Australia and the property was named after him. The house was build in the 1880’s and basically used as a postal collection spot. At that time, the property was the most southern point on the Fleurieu Peninsula to receive a mail delivery so people that lived further south, had to come up to Ulithorne to collect their mail.
In 1971 Sam’s parents bought the place and had big plans for it. There was going to be a large piggery established and Sam’s father planted 35 acres of vines, which were going to be used to get rid of the piggery effluent. The bacon didn’t come home as the piggery plans were slaughtered because of local opposition and the council. The vines sat there, year in and year out, being neglected and stressed until seven years ago when Sam’s dad put the property up for Auction. Sam had an agricultural background but likes painting. Rose was a strategist by profession and together they purchased the property at auction. It was a huge job fixing up the vineyard as after all those years of neglect the old vines were not in good condition. Minimal irrigation is used, just enough to maintain vine health and pesticides are frowned upon but they do use copper and sulphur. Plantings have now been increased to seventy acres and it’s all red; Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and recently Merlot has been added. Sam looks after the vineyards and Brian Light is their winemaker.
As they only produced 690 dozen under the Ulithorne label in 2002, the majority of the fruit is sold off. According to information from Ulithorne, some of the excess fruit has gone to Rosemount and it has wound up in Balmoral. That in itself is interesting as up until the 1998 vintage, Rosemount claimed that the fruit for Balmoral came from three specific vineyards and that they had a leasehold on those vineyards. It looks like Balmoral being restricted to those three specific vineyards is no longer valid.
I love doing tastings like these; I met Rose in the lounge room of their house and as we talked and I tasted two vintages of their wine, Rose rocked her new baby to sleep in her arms. You cannot get more natural or real than that!
Ulithorne 2001 Shiraz is sold out but sold for $40. The bottle had just been opened and it was a bit cool so it was no surprise to find it dumb and unyielding. It was matured in 15% New French oak, 22% older French and the balance new American oak; fermentation was completed in barrel. The abundant tannins are tight grained and seem to be more from the fruit rather than from the oak. The wine is well structured with pure fruit delivering ripe, off-sweet blackberry, with red and blue spectrum flavours in a layered flavour profile. No prune or dead fruit about this baby. Ample-weight, the consistency is supple with a solid structure and there is some elegance to the harmonious, well-developed complexity. Give it another four years for the fruit to emerge from under the tannins. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating may improve in time.
Ulithorne 2002 Shiraz has just been released and sells for $40 through a limited number of retailers. Only 690 dozen were produced and the wine received a similar oak treatment to the 2001 vintage wine. I liked this wine a lot! Ultra-fine, smooth, dusty tannins and pure deep fruit produce an ample-weight wine that is tight and firm, just like an aerobics instructor. The complexity is well developed and has interesting, off-sweet, vanilla, coffee, plum and tar flavours that finish with excellent persistence. Rated as Excellent with **** for value, it should peak about 2010+.
These guys are small producers but they are making good consistent wine and will be a name to watch over the coming years. The location is glorious and the tasting was memorable. What more can you ask for?
After leaving Ulithorne it was back onto the main road to get back into McLaren Vale proper. My shoe phone rang and it was Lynne asking all sorts of questions which clearly showed that her mind was in second gear, or possibly reverse, and her back pain was causing a lot of problems. This is not looking good but I reassured her that all would be OK and there was nothing for her to worry about. But there was plenty for me to start to worry about!
My next appointment was at a winery that I have heard much about over the years and I had even purchased their 97 and 98 Shiraz so I was looking forward to visiting Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards which is owned by Margie and Don Oliver. On the way, I passed two interesting sites. The first was a bloody big tin shed that stood out for miles around – more on that later and the other was the Oliver Family Cemetery. Now obviously, if you have you own family cemetery, the chances are the family has been around for a while and didn’t move in to the area last week. In 1841, the Taranga and White Hill Farms were established by Don’s Great, Great Grandfather, William Oliver and his wife Elizabeth. The family started off with sheep, cattle, orchards and grapes for many years were general farmers,, with the ,property eventually intensifying into full time viticulture. The Taranga property is 110 hectares and mainly planted with grapes.
The Taranga property is on the northern side of McLaren Vale and the Oliver’s live high on top of a hill overlooking the district. What a glorious view, this is one of the best in the area. We met at the house and I was immediately made to feel welcome by two very charming, warm people, in Margie and Don. They also have three dogs, three horses, two Galahs, a cat and a small flock of sheep, so I felt right at home. Their courtyard, which opens out onto the panoramic vista, was the perfect place to taste their wine and have a chin wag.
Don is the viticulturist, Margie looks after the office and sales whist their niece, Corrina Rayment is their winemaker. Daughter, Brioni, is studying her Bachelor of Wine Marketing at University of Adelaide and intends returning to join the gang in a couple of years, so it is now a sixth generation family business. The wines are made at Boar’s Rock.
Growing grapes for over 100 years has its advantages. At various times they have supplied grapes to just about every major producer in the country. Naturally they have some old vines and excellent quality fruit. The labels their grapes have been used for reads like a who’s who of Australia’s finest. They are regularly included in Grange, Eileen Hardy and labels belonging to D’Arenberg, Coriole, Kay’s etc.
In 1994 they decided to start producing some of their own wine (for the second time; history shows they entered a wine show in 1857.) 2004 vintage produced about 600 tons of fruit and they have the choice of the whole lot for their own label, what a great position to be in! Current production of Oliver’s wine is 3,000 cases.
…… …Don, Margie and Peter
Oliver’s Taranga 2001 Shiraz retails for $20 direct from the winery but has a RRP of $25. Dark purple in colour, the hue is very bright and the nose is fruit driven with spicy undertones. Smooth, dusty tannins provide a seductive mouth feel and combines with the pure, deep, distinct fruit to make a very slurpable wine. Ample in weight, the consistency is supple, the structure is already almost seamless and the complexity, harmonious and well developed. Black berry flavours combine with off-sweet red berry flavours that fade into liquorice and chocolate. It is drinking beautifully now and is rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Oliver’s Taranga 2002 Shiraz retails for $22 direct from the winery and has a RRP of $27. It has just been released (June 04.) This wine is a different animal entirely and for my money, a step up on the 2001. The bouquet is reasonably flat indicating the wine may be in a hole at present but it still shows stylish fruit with dusty French oak nuances. Pure, deep, fruit flavours of chocolate, blackcurrant, liquorice and more chocolate build in waves of layers of flavour that will only get better, then the fruit fully surfaces from under the dusty, smooth tannins. Ample-weight, with a solid structure and good balance, it should become seamless in time. Complexity is well developed and this is a damn good wine for the price. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it should peak in 2007+ and there is no doubt the rating will improve as soon as it comes out of its flat spot. This was my favourite of the whole line up.
Oliver’s Taranga 2002 Corrina’s Blend is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Shiraz which retails for $20 direct from the winery. The grapes were co-fermented. Green Cabernet characters dominate the bouquet, which also shows sweet berry Shiraz fruit. The flavour profile shows reasonable complexity but the hard tannins detract from this muscular-weight wine. Rated as Agreeable, it is the weak link in the line up.
Oliver’s Taranga 2001 HJ Reserve Shiraz retails for $40 direct from the winery and was released in June 2004. This is the flagship wine and was matured for twenty four months in new French oak. A high-class wine with a classy bouquet showing quality chocolate fruit over French oak. The wine has excellent mouth-feel and structure. Tannins are dusty and smooth, acid is crisp, the fruit distinct and strong. It is full-bodied with a supple consistency and well-developed complexity. The fruit is very ripe but equally as savoury and shows two-tone blackberry flavours, chocolate, and tar, which are ably supported by tongue crawling tannins that fill the entire vocal orifice and finish with Hackett-like persistence. Rated as Excellent with **** for value. This wine will have loads of fans.
It was a pleasure to visit this winery and the time just flew by. The wines are honest, well made, have been made to be drunk (but are capable of improvement) and very good value. They may be quiet achievers now, but this is a winery to keep an eye on, they are doing everything well and have access to great fruit. I look forward to visiting them again.
The next winery on the agenda was Scarpantoni. In the past, I have loved some of their wines but was disappointed on my last two visits as they did not live up to previous encounters. The 2002 Block 3 Shiraz has received many positive reports so I was looking forward to trying it. I was also looking forward to trying their Sparkling Shiraz but it is only available for tasting on the weekends.
Scarpantoni 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $22 at CD. The bouquet showed VA, dusty, mushroom oak, blackcurrant and mint. Nothing subtle about this wine with its dusty, almost course tannins that are well matched to the crisp acid and distinct, deep fruit that slams the palate with intense, powerful, blackcurrant, almost blackberry spectrum fruit, herbaceous mint and tomato leaf that finishes long and dry. A varietally correct Cabernet, it is full-bodied, firm, solid and represents great value. Worthy of cellar space, if you buy it, drink it now at your own peril, it should be much better in 2010+. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures.
Bargain clean skin barrels were not restricted to Scarpantoni, they were seen at many wineries
Scarpantoni 2002 Block 3 Shiraz sells for $22 at CD. Very dark purple, the bouquet shows blackberry, liquorice, vanilla and menthol. A showy piece of work and clever winemaking has produced this ample-weight black wine that will have mass appeal and provides a big bang for the buck. Smooth drying tannins produce a supple consistency and supports the “in your face,” strong flavour profile that belies the wines weight. The distinct fruit delivers coffee essence, blackberry, liquorice, prune, plum and chocolate that finishes with excellent persistence. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, you will either love it or hate it.
It was interesting to see a number of wines that were available last year were still on the list for sale this year but I do not expect either of the 2002 wines I tried to sit there for long.
The other reason I only tried two wines at Scarpantoni was that I was running short of time and would only just have time for a quick lunch. I headed back to the same little coffee shop that Paul and I had lunch at yesterday and ordered an exotic focaccia. After a lengthy delay it finally arrived and although I had ordered it to eat there, I had run out of time and had to take it with me. The kind lady behind the counter suggested that next time, I ring up in advance and order it and they would have it ready for me. Nice thought but it is a long drive from my place for lunch.
My next appointment was with Phil Christenson at Longwood. I first met Phil a number of years ago when he was working out of the old Chalk Hill Winery and was very impressed with his wines. As well as his own Longwood label, all of which is exported, he also does heaps of contract winemaking for a range of diverse clients, from tiny to quite reasonably sized. When you have a look at the winery names on some of the barrels, you would get a surprise; he is involved with many respected industry names. He has now moved into his own purpose-built winery, together with a new barrel shed, which is conveniently located behind his house. It has a great view to the east and the south right up to the distant hills.
Phil is a very talented guy and started off as a cellar hand at Hardys and wound up being involved in the making of Eileen. He absorbed a lot of winemaking knowledge and skills along the way. Phil is a very hands on sort of guy and does it all himself, a real one man band if ever I have seen one. He even does some of his own building work. It is a pity that his own Longwood label is not sold in Australia.
Longwood 2002 Reserve Shiraz (200 cases) has all been exported and is not available locally, which is the pity. An interesting and hard to pin bouquet, that is complex but subtle, it shows blackberry, a deft touch of char, dominant milk chocolate and plum together with mint and eucalyptus, all took hours to show. A tad over mid-weight, the fruit has fantastic intensity and persistence. It fills the mouth and just keeps on going. Tannins are smooth and supple, the mouth feel is creamy, the acid well judged, this is clever winemaking. Nothing bombastic about this wine! It is very savoury but has a low level of underyling sweetness that adds interest. Dark chocolate, plum, coffee, blackberry and a hint of mint completes the picture. Rated as Highly Recommended, I would be happy to drink this anytime. Anyone who thinks all SA reds taste the same needs to get hold of a bottle of this wine.
Every time I visit Longwood, I am impressed with Phil’s output and talent. He is a real straight shooter that tells it “how it is” and also happens to be one of the real nice guys in the business too. I just wish I could drink more of his wines.
During the trip, I had bought a few expensive bottles of wine in ones and twos and had a few samples that I wanted to ship home, two six packs in total. As I was leaving McLaren Vale early the next day, I decided to send them home via Aust Post this afternoon. At the local post office, I was greeted by a very long que and joined the end of it. After about ten or fifteen minutes (which seemed like an hour) I got to the front of the queue and lifted the boxes onto the counter. The lady asked me if they were wine and I said yes. I was told that there would not be a “wine pick up” from the post office till the next day, and was that OK (there already was a pile of commercial wine boxes in a locked cage behind the counter)? No problem said I and we started on the paperwork. I asked to have the wine insured.
The response was “we can not insure them unless they are packed in our styro shippers.” You could have bowled me over with a whiff of Rosé breath after that comment! I explained that for a start, the wine was in winery boxes, just like those behind the counter and that I had frequently shipped insured wine from my local post office without having to pack them in styro. Also, if the winery boxes were not acceptable for insurance, how come there were a stack of them behind the counter with insured stickers on them? I was told that it was OK for wineries to send them but not individuals. What a load of bureaucratic bovine manure!
No way was I going to play their silly games so I grabbed the wine and walked out. The previous day I had purchased two cases of wine at Fox Creek and had hoped they had not left yet. I drove five minutes up the road to Fox Creek and my wine was sitting in the office ready to go. I asked, if I paid the normal freight and insurance if they would please mind adding the two six packs to the pile. No problem, they were happy to do it.
The insured cartons of wine arrived a few days later and guess who delivered them? Australia bloody Post!
The next winery on the agenda is one that has a big reputation and one where, in the past, I have loved some of their wines and hated others so I never know what to expect when I visit them. One thing I do know, the winery staff is always professional and helpful. The CD setting is certainly conducive to enjoying wine. There is a great view and the large fireplace adds to the ambience. A huge line-up of wines can be tasted and the list is always increasing. As I was restricted by time, I concentrated on a few of the old stand-bys and some of the brand new labels. My timing was good, as couple of wines had been released the day before. The winery is d’Arenberg.
d’Arenberg 2002 Footbolt Shiraz sells for $18 at CD. There was a touch of VA but the fruit is attractive. A fruit-driven, clean wine of ample weight and although the dusty tannins are obvious, they are smooth and the wine has a smart mouth-feel. Pure fruit provides red and blue berry flavours, chocolate and liquorice which all finishes long and dry in a well-controlled, balanced wine. Acid is fresh, the complexity well developed and although this is an easy drinking wine, it is well structured and should improve in the short term. Sensational value, it is rated as Recommended with ***** for value (when on special at $14). What’s going on, a veritable bargain?
d’Arenberg 2002 High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $18 at CD. The wine had enough pure, deeply seated fruit to kick through the abundant, dusty tannins. There is an initial sweet attack, with a savoury mid palate showing slightly bitter chocolate that finishes to an herbaceous note and cigar box qualities. All of this with a little underlying sweetness, the wine fills the mouth and the oak tannins provide a long finish. Well constructed, it is muscular-weight, firm and solid but requires a few years for the tannins to soften and integrate. Rated as Recommended with **** for value.
d’Arenberg 2002 The Galvo Garage (Bordeaux blend) sells for $31.50 at CD. The bouquet is lifted and shows dusty tannins, ripe blue and red fruit with subtle cigar box. A large amount of dusty, drying, puckering tannins seems to make this wine a little hard. The distinct fruit flavours of blackcurrant, leafy notes, mint, aniseed and bitter chocolate finishes dry. Rated as Recommended with ** for value, come back and look at it again in 2009.
d’Arenberg 2002 The Laughing Magpie (Shiraz Viognier blend) sells for $31.50 at CD. Distinct, deep fruit delivers a very sweet attack with off-sweet undertones of pepper, plum, liquorice and dark chocolate, which finishes with good length and persistence. Ample-weight, the consistency is firm, the structure solid and the complexity developed. Many people will love it for its mouth feel and fruity style although I am not one of them. Rated as Recommended with ** for value.
d’Arenberg 2002 Sticks and Stones (another new yuppie blend – Tempranillo, Grenache and Souza) sells for $35 at CD. Very dark in colour, approaching black, the hue is incredibly vivid and the bouquet shows an unusual array of raw meat, mint and mushroom. A rustic red in typical d’Arenberg style, the abundant, dusty tannins are reasonably fine and the fruit, deep, strong and persistent. A better mouth filler than a dentist could achieve; its savoury, meaty, blackberry and black chocolate flavours finish dry and linger for longer than it takes for a the shock of a dentists’ account to wear off. Ample-weight with a firm consistency and rock solid structure, this wine needs time for the huge amounts of tannins to age. A very interesting and different wine, it is worth cellaring and would be perfect for the black art of “options bastardry”. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating may improve as the wine matures. Call me a yuppie, but I liked it!
d’Arenberg 2001 The Bonsai Vine (a traditional GSM blend) sells for $31.50 at CD. This wine needs time and is not for the faint of heart. The smooth, drying tannins are searing and the distinct, strong fruit is jammy. Blackberry, liquorice, raspberry, milk chocolate, more liquorice and mint have excellent length and persistence. Muscular in weight, the wine is solid and firm with a diverse complexity. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, it should be good when the tannins soften.
d’Arenberg 2001 The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $60 at CD. One sniff of this one and the olfactory senses snap to attention faster than you react when you see a cop and are speeding; seriously good stuff with chocolate and high quality French oak. An interesting drop! The initial sweet attack is slammed by masses of smooth tannins, which finish long and dry and is also offset by the piquant acid. Deep, pure, strong fruit flavours of dark chocolate, milk chocolate, mulberry, mint and peppermint tussle with the tannins for supremacy but it is an interesting battle. A full-bodied wine, it needs time to show its best. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value.
The wines are stylistically consistent and well made. Many have a huge amount of tannin and demand time. Most of the wines I tried were pretty good and I walked away feeling quite impressed. The values of some of the wines are very good but by the same token some are at the opposite spectrum. Unfortunately I did not get to try the Dead Arm as the 2001 is long gone and the 2002 had not been released. As I left d’Arenberg, I noticed a basket press near the entrance to CD. Some wineries state they use a basket press to get gentle tannins, either d’Arries does not use it any longer or they use an industrial strength one. The tannins are certainly noticeable in many of their wines and there is nothing subtle about them. Still, this winery does have a huge following and are going from strength to strength so the drinking public must appreciate what they are doing.
As I had been crisscrossing McLaren Vale, I kept noticing a huge new shed that graced the skyline and was visible from a number of locations, in many cases from kilometres away. My next appointment took me to that new shed and once again, the Pie King decided to join me and this time, he stayed for quite a while so things must have been interesting and the wines good. This winery is owned by the larger-than-life, irrepressible Tony Delisio, his long suffering wife, Christine and their deep pocketed, business partner. Tony was initially a successful viticulturalist and in the past, supplied grapes to some well-known wineries, including Clarendon Hills. He started mucking around making his own wine over a decade ago and Classic McLaren Wines was born. Years ago, the first wines I bought from Tony had computer generated black ink labels with the wine name and vintage - that was it. The early wines were virtually homemade.
The Pie King strolls through The Shed …………….
He has two ranges of wines, the entry level is called CMC (or Classic McLaren) and his icon range is called La Testa. A few years ago, a vintage of La Testa Shiraz received a high rating from Parker and Tony jacked up the price to $120. Tony and I talk quite openly and on a number of occasions in the past I have been very critical about the pricing of his La Testa Shiraz and to some extent, the rest of the La Testa range but Tony has got big shoulders, both figuratively and literally and is happy for the honest feedback.
Saying Tony is “passionate about his wines” is like saying HRH Queen Elizabeth is “a little English”. He is completely irrepressible, totally eccentric and just about the most passionate winemaker I have ever met. He openly and proudly calls himself “a peasant”. The guy is totally without guile and the sort of person who you feel you can instantly trust. This is the second time I have visited the winery but have tasted the wines on many occasions.
In essence, ten years ago the winery did not exist and was just a brand name for some home made wines. In reality, five years ago the winery did not exist either but they had started production in a slightly bigger way and had plans to make it a viable, commercial enterprise. The business is built with a solid commercial basis. For a start, they have mature, extensive vineyard holdings and they are backed by a large SA home builder, which is just as well, as they have invested about $10 million in the operation and have not sold much wine.
When I visited last year, Tony said he was “going to build a shed.” And build a shed he did, to date $2 million dollars worth and it is not finished. There are plans for a mezzanine level that will hold offices and a function centre. Now that is some “shed” and one that many of his neighbours openly comment on, especially the way it is so noticeable on the landscape. When we got there, Tony was nowhere in sight but the same thing happened last year so I was half expecting it. However, this time he was found after about 30 minutes, for a big fella he can be invisible.
………….. ………… …… Coming – ready or not
Whilst we were waiting, we wandered around the facility; vintage was still in full swing. The winery was a hive of activity. It was also obvious that the inside of the “shed” was still being fitted out. Quick-drying cement for the additional plinths, which are used as base support for the tanks, had been poured and was still wet. Ferment tanks were all over the place and Tony had begged, borrowed and stolen fermenters from all over the district. Names of other wineries adorned many of them and that was not because they were all being used for other wines produced under contract.
In the last few years, the winery has gone from 300 to 1,000 tons processing capacity and of that about 50% is contract work. In 2004 they will produce about 20,000 cases of wine. Tony has invested in a second press. He has found that that with his own grown fruit, almost every variety seems to hit almost at the same time. This is because he keeps his cropping levels low, 3 tons per acre maximum. Whilst I was there, the last truck of grapes (for this vintage) arrived which was contract work fruit. Tony had finished his own picking over six weeks previously. He said that the grapes that had just come were over-cropped, about six tones per acre. They were not as ripe they should be and Tony had recommended (to the grower) they should be ditched. His advice was not taken!
The last truck of grapes for this vintage arrives after dark …
Speaking of presses, we talked about the difference between basket press and bladder presses. Tony said he felt he had even better control using a bladder press. In addition, the bladder press was able to press as gently as any basket press and the bladder press was more productive.
As we walked around the new “shed” Tony in his unassuming, modest, shy and retiring way said (and if you believe that description of him, I have a bridge to sell) “I am looking forward to the tough times because it will shake the s*it out of the industries undies.” And then he went onto say, “If you want to play Boche, don’t forget to bring your own balls, and they had better be big and made of steel.”
Balls of steel indeed! They have sunk in ten million big ones and are completely unconcerned that they have sold very little wine. The volume produced in the 1999 and 2000 vintages was low. The 2001 vintage sees volume starting to rise. By 2002 they will have some real product to move. It sort of makes sense when you consider the current release is the 2000 vintage and Tony is very happy to let the wines age in his warehouse prior to release.
All the wines in the following reviews will be released in early August. If you are interested in purchasing any of them contact the winery direct on (08) 8323-0115. I have got my order in already.
Tony believes in making wine to go with food and adores his Grenache, but I won’t hold that against him. Naturally enough, he made me start the tasting his Grenache wines.
Classic McLaren 2001 Grenache sells for $14 and has yet to be released. Pure, deep, strong fruit delivers very intense, blackcurrant with rich milk chocolate flavours and the lively acid that cuts through the sweetness. The wine is lean in weight (but not power), has a supple consistency and a harmonious, sophisticated complexity. If it was not for the acid, the wine would be seamless but the acid makes it a perfect match for a good oily pasta sauce. Very different to most Grenache at this price point and it over-delivers big time. Rated as Recommended with **** for value.
……….. Tony in his new shed
Classic McLaren 2001 La Testa Grenache will sell for between $29 and $32 when it is released. Smooth, drying tannins, lively acid and pure, strong fruit combine to form a lean wine with a supple consistency and harmonious, sophisticated complexity. Dark berry fruit and milk chocolate flavours abound. It is a well-made, high quality food wine. Rated as Recommended with ** for value.
Classic McLaren 2001 Cabernet Merlot will sell for $20 when it is released. Almost black in colour, the nose was brooding. This wine is bloody well made with very fine-grained, chalky tannins and pure distinct fruit. It is medium-weight, has a supple consistency, solid, tight structure and well developed complexity. A true varietal Cabernet Sauvignon profile of blackcurrant, chocolate, liquorice, tomato leaf and tea flavours fill the mouth, build across the palate and finishes dry with excellent persistence. Rated as Recommended with ***** for value, it is drinking well now but will improve over the next few years and the rating should improve in that time. Once again, it is sensational quality for the price.
Classic McLaren 2001 La Testa Merlot will sell for $49 when it is released. Chocolate, burnt coffee and plum dominate the bouquet. Silky tannins, fresh acid and obvious fruit combine to form a standout mouth feel with supporting solid structure. The wine is ample-weight with a soft consistency and harmonious complexity. Plums, blackcurrant, milk chocolate and cinnamon complete the package. A high quality Merlot, it should peak about 2006+ and is rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value.
Classic McLaren 2001 La Testa Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for $47 when it is released. This is a silk purse wine but it never started off as a sow’s ear! It received 100% new French oak and ferment was completed in barrel. The fruit is obviously top quality. The nose is closed but from the first sniff you know this will be silky and a class act. The tannins are incredibly tightly grained; the fruit pure and deep, the construction is perfect, resulting in a sensational mouth feel. Ripe, juicy fruit, off-sweet blackcurrant, milk chocolate and the other normal Cabernet components take longer to finish than it took to type this up with two fingers. The workers had been eating fish and chips prior to the tasting and the office reeked of the oily smell but the power of this wine overcame it in the olfactory senses. Ample-weight, structure is elegant and seamless, this is a classy wine that is drinking well now but will improve to 2007+. Rated as Excellent with *** for value.
Classic McLaren 2001 Shiraz will sell for $22 when it is released. Start off with great fruit, store it in 35% new oak (balance second use), add a little old fashioned winemaking voodoo and then sell it at a fantastic price and you have a winner that should bolt home. Once again, a wine with sensational mouth feel. The smooth, silky, tannins and pure, deep fruit crawls across the palate and keeps going and going till it comes out the back of your head and finishes dry. An initial sweet hit of strawberry is offset by the chocolate, off-sweet blackcurrant and fresh acid. Ample-weight, the consistency is supple and well supported by a solid structure. Complexity is well developed and the wine is rated as Highly Recommended with ***** for value, one of the best value wines of the trip!
The Site Forman ………………………
Classic McLaren 2001 La Testa Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for $45 when it is released. Only Tony could come up with a blend like this but it works! The closed nose is creamy, dusty, chocolaty and earthy, unusual to say the least. This is one of the most enjoyable Grenache blends I have tried. It has a serious level of complexity and great mouth feel. Smooth, creamy tannins combine with pure fruit to form a layered structure and diverse, sophisticated complexity that is great drinking now but will improve till 2006+. Sweet strawberry, milk chocolate, blackcurrant, jube berry flavours, dark chocolate and mocha, finishes with as much pizzazz as a circus grand finale. This is more than an upmarket, sexy, party wine; Tony had better be well insured as he is likely to be sued for paternity regularly ~ ~ ~ there is a potential baby in every bottle. Rated as Excellent with **** for value.
Classic McLaren 2001 La Testa Shiraz has had a price drop and will sell for $100 (instead of $120.) Remember this is the label I have castigated in the past because of its cost. An intricate bouquet, it has some VA and shows coffee essence, strong mint, chocolate and sweet compost/earthy notes. A top shelf, classy wine that comes from fruit which is as pure as you will find; forget the common Rolls Royce oak treatment, this has received the Bentley French oak treatment. Smooth, tightly-grained tannins, fresh acid and ocean deep pure fruit combine to produce a wine that is as seductive as Catherine Zeta-Jones. Ample-weight with a velvety, rich, yet firm, consistency, the complexity is intricate and sophisticated. Sweet and off-sweet flavours of blackcurrant, liquorice, dark chocolate, coffee, mocha and mint seduces the palate and olfactory senses and finishes with enough length to satisfy any wine nymphomaniac. Tony calls it a “complete wine” and I have to agree with him. It is drinking magnificently now but it will get better with time. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures in 2010+, it is in the same class as The Factor, RWT, etc. It is not cheap but it is no longer grossly overpriced and this level of quality is not often inexpensive.
I made the comment that the La Testa Shiraz was a wine to die for; Tony said “it was a wine to live for!”
…. The Forman doing a quality
…control check of the latest crush
Tony is a self admitted “peasant” but there is nothing peasant like about the winery or the wines produced. No expense has been spared on the winery, the grapes are top quality and they receive Rolls Royce treatment. The annual oak bill alone would enough to support a third world nation’s economy. I have no idea how much more they will have to sink into this venture before they make a profit but trust me, no expense is spared and I mean no expense.
After the tasting we went into the house where Christine was cooking dinner and we had a chat around the kitchen bench. Tony happened to mention that he had promised the workers a bottle of Cristal Champagne with breakfast the next day to celebrate the end of vintage. Christine was not impressed and said Tony was being ridiculous giving them the Cristal. She told him he should give them the Dom instead! Tony argued the toss and said they were worth it and won that “discussion.” But believe me, you do not want to get in the middle when these two are having a “discussion.” It would not be good for one’s health. It is interesting to see how passionate about the business Christine is, it was pretty obvious that in order to cope with Tony’s persona she needs to be a very strong person in her own right.
In summary, for a theoretically new winery, the wines are remarkably consistent and already have a house style. A number of things are blindly obvious. All the wines have a great mouth-feel and that is a result of top quality grapes, gentle pressing, barrel fermentation and first class tightly grained French oak. Tony also knows exactly what he is trying to achieve and spares no expense doing it.
The CMC range is some of the best value you will find anywhere and should blitz the market if Tony ever figures out how to pass marketing 101. The La Testa range is getting better with every vintage and the majority of 01’s and barrel samples of the 02’s that I tried were worth the money. Indeed a few of them are excellent value. The 02 La Testa Shiraz is one that I would spend $100 on without a second thought, and I normally think three times before I fork out $100+ for a bottle of wine.
Watch this label, as time goes on, you will be hearing a lot more about it. In fact, don’t just watch the label, track down the wines; I sincerely doubt you strength of character be disappointed.
This concludes the McLaren Vale section and there were some great wines at all ends of the pricing scale. Not as many as the Barossa, but then the area is not as big but there is more than enough terrific wine coming out of this area to go into any collector’s cellar. In an earlier chapter I said “I wonder what the Pie King has been smoking?” The answer was kindly provided by John himself in a later email to me.
Stay tuned for the final two chapters, which covers Clare. Lots more tasting notes, interviews, feature winery stories, a bit of humour for good measure and a Grand Finale dinner in Adelaide. 707, aka The 70’s Porn Star, aka Steve Norman also makes another appearance. More next week.
Scary isn’t it!
Copyright © Ric Einstein 2004