Last years nine-day trip was a
harrowing experience so this year I decided to break the trip up into two; the
first segment was completed in February and the Tour Diary chapters for that
part of the trip can be found
here. As the 2005 vintage has just been completed, as with previous years,
it has become tradition at the start of the May Tour Diaries to put things in
perspective and to examine the characteristics of the past few vintages. If you
have not read the recent report on “Vintage Perspectives in South Australia”, click
here now.Overall, the best summation I heard, which sums up 2005 in
South Australia in one sentence was, “the well-managed vineyards performed well
and the ordinary vineyards produced very ordinary wine.“
planning this trip and requesting appointments, I made a point of asking
wineries to allow me to taste as many unreleased
wines as possible. The answer to this request from many wineries was
an unprecedented level of cooperation and generosity. Tasting notes for these
wines should prove invaluable when planning future purchases and with the
proliferation of new wines coming out, you can never have enough information.
Diary will be broken down into chapters, which will be posted in (hopefully)
weekly instalments on torbwine.com. All
the tasting notes will be individually uploaded in the Tasting Note Data Base
for future easy searching.
trip I visited a balanced mix a wineries, some micro-producers, some medium
producers and some large players. Wines at almost all price points were tasted;
as well as a few that will be available at “mates’ rates” and some real
bargains have been uncovered. As usual, the generosity and hospitality
exhibited by the majority of the wineries I visit never fails to amaze me, so it would be remiss of me not to thank the many wineries that
went to so much trouble and effort to make my visit a memorable one. Without them, there would be no story and I truly
appreciate their honesty and candour when answering difficult questions.
As usual, the TORB Rating System has been used
throughout these notes. If you are unfamiliar with the TORB Rating System, it
worth spending a minute or two becoming familiar with it; click
here for details.It is important to understand that I am a very hard
Day Zero Thursday – the trip to
On this trip, my good friend Brian Handreck (aka
Red Bigot) had decided to join me for the entire week, and once The Pie King of South
(aka John Davis) found out that Brian was going to be
along for the whole ride, John decided to tag along for the entire trip too. Oh
goody, just what I needed; two of them to gang up against me in the culinary
stakes. You'll see why I was so concerned about this
as the story unfolds.
It's just as easy to drive from my place in
Berrima to Canberra as it is to drive to Sydney so I picked Brian up
from his home in Canberra. We left the
dog-mobile in the long-term car park and nosed into the airport nice and early.
By doing so I am normally able to get an “escape” row seat with loads of leg
room. According to John, this wouldn't do Brian much good as his feet would
have trouble reaching the floor when he is sitting down anyway. After
going through security it was "drink o'clock”. Brian ordered a beer and
not being a beer drinker, I ordered some tomato juice. Although the tomato
juice had a theoretical 2% sugar content, it was sickly sweet and undrinkable
so I went back and ordered a Crown Lager; my annual quota of beer. After having
drunk half a bottle of this I remembered why I only have one beer a year.
Once again the (Virgin Blue) plane was late so
I read the latest copy of Gourmet Traveller and Brian decided to raise his
blood pressure by reading Winestate.
On the previous trip, as I wouldn't be arriving
at John and Sue’s place until about 8.30, I grabbed a Sub along the way and
told John not to worry about dinner. As is his wont, he took absolutely no
notice of that suggestion and provided a marvellous cheese platter. Having
learnt from that mistake, on this trip I told Brian to go easy on the food and
we both ordered a Ploughman’s focaccia on the plane. It was up to the usual
standard of most airline food and whilst Brian managed to eat about half of it,
I was hungry and forced it down.
John’s daughter Hosanna was in a school musical
so John decided it was more important to feign interest in his offspring than
pick us up, so we had to get from Adelaide airport to Blewitt
Springs under our own steam. The Adelaide Airport Door to Door Flyer minibus was waiting
for us when we got off the plane and took us door-to-door for $29 each. A great
service at a very reasonable cost!
As planned, when we arrived at Pie King Bridge
Sue was home (and not going to the musical) as she was working night shift and
had to leave for work soon after we arrived. Brian and Sue had not met each
other but there was instantaneous rapport and whilst they were getting to know
each other, I decided a glass of wine was in order and opened one of the
bottles I had previously sent down. It was a Charles Cimicky
1998 Reserve Shiraz and the damn thing was corked! It was not a good start to the trip and
an omen of things to come; there were far too many corked or otherwise faulty
bottles encountered on this trip, a quite depressing statistic.
I kept on waiting for the cheese, and waiting
and waiting - but it never eventuated. After Sue left for
work, we raided the fridge and found all sorts of goodies to make
ourselves a snack and did not go to bed hungry. As it turned out, a few less
calories on the day would do us no harm as we more than made up for it in
coming days. By the time I got home I was in serious need of a diet.
Prior to going to work, Sue advised us of a
couple of things “we needed to know”. The first was the renovations had not
been completed and Hosanna's new room still looked like a construction site. As
Hosanna's old room was going to be where Brian was meant to sleep, some
logistics were called for. Hosanna did indeed vacate her room for Brian and a
mattress was set up in the lounge. The second item of news was something that anyone
who lives in the country is well acquainted with; there was a Possum in the
ceiling (that wore hobnailed boots) and the possibility of mice crawling around
as well. The rodents had only taken up residence in the last couple of days,
and whilst the ceiling had been loaded with rat and mouse poison, it had not
started to work.
As John was going to be late, we decided not to
wait up for him then headed off to our respective bedrooms. At I was woken up by “the mice” although they sounded more like
industrial munching machines chewing their way through the timber under the
built-in cupboards dividing both bedrooms. After making banging and crashing
noises, they finally shut up and both Brian (in the adjoining bedroom) and I
could get back to sleep.
Day One Friday – McLaren Vale Wineries
By , I had checked my
e-mail and had read a chapter of my book and I was just about to head to the
shower; blow me down, John beat me to it! Normally you have prise John out of
bed with a crowbar and there he is up so early in the morning. He really must
be excited about this trip, either that or he was afraid he was going to wet
Old Vines on the right – Johns vines on the left
Note the sandy soil
John must have read the last Tour Diary as the espresso
coffee he made me this morning was strong enough to make a spoon stand up. After
coffee, “Farmer Pie King” decided to take Brian for a mandatory tour
through his vineyards. As we were climbing up the sandy slope, we were warned
to be careful to stay on the track and avoid "innocent weed." If you
are not familiar with these thorny, prickly little devils, you are extremely
lucky; there is nothing "innocent" about them. Since John bought the
vineyard last year, his attitude towards wine has changed. He was very quick to
tell us "drinking wine is overrated; all the fun is in the
vineyards." The lad is clearly delusional in his thoughts and judging by
the amount of wine he managed to consume on this trip, he must be suffering
from ‘vine growing/pi$$pot’ schizophrenia.
However one thing that did come through loud
and clear through the whole trip, John's clear obsession with vines and his
insatiable thirst to pick up as much knowledge about viticulture as is humanly
After a trip through the vines, we piled into
the new council-owned stretch pie-mobile limo, which is an indescribable colour,
and headed into McLaren Vale for breakfast at Koffee and Snax.Being the start of a holiday, and knowing that
I had absolutely no chance of eating anything like healthy food with these two
guys, bacon and eggs were in order and the guy at Koffe
and Snax does them perfectly. The coffee is also
Koffee and Snax also do great
From there, we were off to our first port of call, and
because this winery is generally not open to the public unless by appointment,
it’s a great place to visit at when no one else is
open or wants to see me.
Oliverhill is one of the small producers I visit year in and year out.
Whilst the style of wine they make will not appeal to those who like delicate,
refined, low-alcohol wines, I have yet to walk away disappointed. The wines are
always well-made, consistent, fruit driven and excellent value. As we drove up,
we spooked a Balinese cat that bolted off at a rate of knots, seemingly
unperturbed by its lack of one rear leg. John asked if the cat was rare, and as
quick as a flash Brian answered, "only the
Due to the time of the year that we visited,
there were not many finished, bottled wines to try but Stuart Miller is always willing to
allow us to taste his barrel samples. Whilst in many cases I'm reluctant to
post more than brief impressions on barrel samples, past history shows that
Stewart’s samples are normally an excellent indication of what is to come.
Oliverhill 2004 Jimmy Section Shiraz(barrel sample) shows a terrific vibrant
colour. The bouquet is most attractive with lovely perfumed aromatics, liquored
cherry and candied orange. Excellent ripe tannins; the complexity although
youthful, already holds interest and the flavour profile shows loads of spicy
pepper. The only downside is the wine shows a little alcoholic warmth. A wine I
would like to drink when it is blended and bottled; it is worth seeking out
around September when it will be released. According to Stuart, the 2004 wines
are looking good and should be just ahead of his 2002 wines.
Stuart drawing off samples for us
The winery has recently gained long-term access to
excellent parcels of fruit from a vineyard in Clarendon. The 2004 vintage will
see the release of a new label which has yet to be formally named but will
possibly wind up being called Oliverhill
2004 Clarendon Shiraz. The barrel sample exudes slightly cooler climate characters with a
magnificent spicy bouquet with eucalyptus and cinnamon. The palate has a spicy,
savoury nature with coffee and rich, dark chocolate on top of the sweet layer
of fruit which finishes with excellent intensity and is bloody attractive.
Medium-weight, with slightly powdery tannins; this is a lip-smacking, good
drinking wine that will have an introductory price of around $25.
Oliverhill 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon at this early stage of its life is all
about structure. Abundant, puckering tannins currently bury the quality fruit
but the wine is well balanced and just needs time for the fruit to surface and
for the acid, which at this point is sticking up a little, to integrate. It
lingers well and should be good in time.
Last year Stuart gave me a sample of their
experimental 03 Durif to taste. Only a tiny amount had been produced and it was
wisely decided that the wine would not be released as it was not up to the
desired standard. The
Oliverhill 2004 Durif is a different story. The bouquet is deep, rich and
brooding. A big wine with loads of oak and tannins, the fruit is currently
lurking below the other components but is in balance. Chocolate, plum, coffee,
vanilla and eucalyptus present a savoury profile that finishes with excellent
length and persistence. A wine that is heading in the right direction, it will
cost about $25 when released.
Oliverhill 2003 Jimmy Section Shiraz sells for $25 by the dozen direct from the
winery. What a good way to start the trip: this, the first finished wine
tasted has a very attractive nose boasting ripe, intense blackberry, plum, rich
chocolate, emerging coffee and vanillin oak characters. The palate follows the
bouquet with the addition of pepper and a sappy mid-palate. There is excellent
power for its muscular weight and it finishes with good persistence. Complexity
is harmonious and well developed. A good wine for the price, it is drinking
well now but will improve and is rated as Recommended with **** for value. According
to John, the 2003 Jimmy Section would be a great wine to have with bacon and
eggs every morning for breakfast. He is not far wrong!
As we tasted the wines, we were joined by Linda
Miller who is an excellent complementary foil for her quieter husband. Linda is
a character and reminds me of a shorter version of Morticia
Adams (Adams Family); it’s always fun to chat with her and Stuart. The summary
for this winery visit could have just about been written before I got there.
“Good quality, honest wines that are not for the faint hearted and are well
priced. Nothing changes here because if it’s not broken, why try and fix it.” The
only change necessary to the summary is the addition of two new wines and
elimination of their Grenache. Good stuff!
Our next stop was at Brian’s request; he wanted
to try the Lloyds Reserve 2002 (which had just been released) from Coriole. The cellar door is
quaint and attractive. The winery has a solid range and was one of the pioneers
in the experimentation of European varieties in this region. We were looked
after by a delightful lady called Lee who turned out to be the partner of the
recently deceased Greg Trott. Lee was still,
understandably, visibly affected by her recent bereavement but managed to tell
us a wonderfully amusing anecdote. At his funeral, on the front of the order of
service was a cartoon. It illustrated Greg dressed in his finest suit, standing
outside the pearly gates with St Peter, surrounded by cases of wine. The
caption read "We have been waiting for you Trotty;
the others didn't know it was BYO."
Coriole 2003 Sangiovese sells for $17 at cellar door. A spicy bouquet
leads to an intensely savoury palate that is almost a bitter in nature but
still maintains its attraction; it's a great food wine that finishes with
excellent persistence and whilst it is easy drinking, it is better than that
description. Tannins are silky smooth and combine with the deeply seated fruit
to form a medium-weight wine, with a supple consistency, and harmonious
complexity. Rated asRecommended with **** for value.
Coriole Cellar Door - very cute!
2002 Nebbiolo sells for $26.50 at cellar door. Smooth, dusty
tannins and obvious fruit deliver spice and milk chocolate flavours which are
supported with zingy acid (that is not out of whack); the package finishes with
a drying, slightly bitter finish. Medium-weight, the consistency is supple, the
structure solid and the complexity harmonious. A reasonably easy drinking wine
that needs food, it is more attractive than the Sangiovese. Rated asRecommendedwith *** for value, it will be best
consumed over the next three years.
Coriole 2003 The Old Barn sells for $30 and is
only available at cellar door. Production has been limited to 586 dozen and the
wine is a Shiraz-Cabernet blend. The bouquet of pepper, plum, vanilla and spice
is replicated on the palate with fresh acid that offsets the sweetness.
Medium-weight, unobtrusive smooth tannins provide a solid backbone; the
consistency is supple and the complexity well developed which results in an
easy-drinking, ho-hum wine. Rated asRecommendedwith *** for value, it is ready to drink now.
Coriole 2002 Mary Kathleen sells for $39 at cellar door. An unusual
bouquet for a Cabernet; with spice, blackcurrant, milk chocolate and cedary oak characters; the palate follows the bouquet with a
little leafiness and finishes with good persistence. A quality, well-balanced
and constructed medium-weight wine, it has a supple consistency, solid
structure and harmonious well-developed complexity. Whilst it is easy drinking
now, in time it should become seamless and is rated as Highly Recommended with
Coriole 2002 Lloyds Reserve Shiraz sells for $65 at cellar door.
Beautiful, deeply-seated, pure fruit which is impeccably balanced to smooth, fine
drying tannins delivers smoky oak, rich chocolate, ripe plum, blackberry and a
touch of coffee that finishes long. A seriously good quality wine that is
approachable now due to its harmonious, sophisticated complexity and solid
structure; it will become seamless in time. A classy, indeed impressive,
medium-weight tipple that is certainly worthy of cellar space; it is rated as Excellent with ***for value. Certainly the best young Lloyds I've
tried for years.
I tried a number of their current releases at a
trade tasting late last year. Tasting notes for those wines can be found in the
tasting notes section. Coriole is not only a consistent producer; its house
style is evident across the whole range. The wines tend to be more subtle and a
food friendly than many other wines from McLaren Vale.
The next appointment was at d'Arenberg with Mark Bolton who is the Brand
Ambassador and Public Relations Manager; now that title is as much a mouthful
as the names of some of their wines. I have visited d'Arenberg on quite a
number of occasions, appreciated many of their wines over a long period of
time, have multiple vintages of Dead Arm in my cellar and thought I had a
reasonable appreciation for what this winery was about; that was until I
visited them this time. If there was a Victoria Cross for “winery construction
deception”, this place would get it. When you drive into the property and up
the hill to cellar door, there are bits of rustic old winemaking equipment
around the place, a well manicured lawn, a rather quaint cellar door with a
fabulous view over the Vales, as well as a highly regarded restaurant. Yes, the
cellar door has a phenomenal range of wine but everything about the cellar door
appears to be rustic and one cannot help being left with the impression this is
a fairly small operation. And that is where the deception comes in.
A view few visitors see
The cellar door cunningly disguises the scope and magnitude
of this business. Whoever planned this site should get a medal for smart design
because the magnitude of the operation is substantially bigger than the cellar
door could ever suggest, but more of that later. The vineyards surrounding the
winery were first planted in the 1890s. The fruit from 78 ha was sold to the
likes of Kay’s, Edward and Chaffey, Tintara and Hardys etc.
Frank Osborn the second generation
grower, left medical school to build his own winery; it was complete in 1928.
In 1943 Frank's son d'Arry, then aged 16, left school
to help his ill father run the business. In 1957 d'Arry
took over the running of the business completely and two years later bottled
the first of the diagonal red
labelled wines. It is reported that d’Arry went to Prince AlbertCollege and the red stripe was
on the school tie. d'Arenberg is named after d’Arry’s mother, her maiden name was d'Arenberg.
Today, d'Arenberg is seen as being at the
forefront of developing the European grape varieties in McLaren Vale. In
reality, there is nothing new in this sort of innovative development at
d’Arenberg. In 1959 d'Arenberg introduced Riesling to McLaren Vale. Their 1967
Riesling won 21 gold medals and 12 trophies, so awards are nothing new for this
After graduating from RoseworthyCollege and touring other wine
regions, Chester d'Arenberg Osborn took
over as Chief Winemaker in 1984. He is the fourth generation family winemaker.
As we meandered up the slight incline behind
the winery, much to John's delight, we discussed viticulture and yields.
In terms of yields, in 2002 they wound up
producing about 1.5 tonnes per acre. In 2003, yields were down and they
produced about 1.3 tonnes per acre. In 2004, yields were up and they scored 2.4
tonnes to the acre and in 2005 it will be somewhere between 1.8 and 2 tonnes to
the acre. There are not many wineries of this size that have such low cropping
levels, and this could go part of the way to explain the quality of the wines.
I asked Mark to compare the last few vintages
in terms of quality. According to him, 2001 is about structure, intensity and
grip. 2002 is absolutely about structure; the fruit is more into the red
spectrum and thicker. 2003 produced wines that are lovely, forward, round and
long. 2004 is pretty smart with wonderful richness but it is too early to tell
how good the wines are, and they won't really get a better idea until they get
a good look at them again in November.
you went over the small crest and started the gentle descent, you would have no
idea there was a winery on this site; it had been very cunningly hidden. Even
as you approached the winery it doesn’t look very big. Mark decided the best
way to get a real appreciation of the site was for us to climb up a few flights
of stairs to the top of a tall set of three tanks (that together hold 500,000
litres – or 666,666 bottles) and even then, whilst the view was stunning, the winery
didn't look all that big.
After coming down from the top of the tanks, we
received a more intimate view of the winery. Interestingly enough, as we
wandered around the buildings each one looked fairly small and we were still
left with the impression we were not touring a large operation. It is only when
we had come to the end of the tour, and thought about each individual component
building that we began to comprehend the magnitude of this winery. Locating the
winery out of sight of the cellar door was not by accident and was a smart
move. The layout of the buildings, be it by intentional design or an accident
of evolution, is certainly incredibly effective.
Old Slate Fementers...................................
New Stainless Steel Fermenters........
chilling pipes - locked in place ........................................ Offer more flexibility .............................................
As we walked into the winery, slap bang in
front of us was an impressive array of old slate fermenters which are used for their top wines. Turning out
high-quality wine year in and year out is no accident, and whilst having
terrific quality grapes is an excellent start, every step in the winemaking
process has the potential to reduce the quality of the finished product. To put
it bluntly, if you have top grapes to begin with, the objective is not the
screw it up with the winemaking process.
Mark explained how the old slate fermenters are used in great detail and whilst I normally
don't normally get into this level of sordid detail, this is pretty special and
worth sharing. The reds are crushed very lightly and go into a must chiller and
then the entire contents goes straight into the fermenter;
that's free run, seeds, skin, the whole works, even the bugs. The whole lot is
then covered with boards and inoculated with yeast.
The fermentation is extremely violent. It
starts off pink and after a fortnight is black. Chester and his team taste
every batch twice a day, what an enormous job. Once the ferment reaches 7°,
they take out the free run juice; the mats and timbers are pulled off and then
they foot stomp each ferment. The free run juice is then put back in to do the
last little bit of ferment and then the wine goes to press.
The wine is not pumped over, nor is it plunged.
As most of the berries are whole when they go in, the fermentation is more like
a carbonic maceration process; the berries expand and burst which results in a
softer tannin structure. As a result of this process the wine is so clean it
doesn't require any fining or filtering. The wine is pressed with about a half
a degree of beaume which leaves enough sugar to kick-start malolactic
fermentation and the wine sits on its solids all the way through the rest of
The Old Casks......................
Not all wines are made in this fashion. Fifty
percent of the blend of High Trellis, Custodian, d’Arry’s
Original, and Footbolt, are matured in huge old casks
that were coopered the 1920s, some of which came from the original Tatachilla
site. Naturally they don't impart any oak character but they do stabilise the
colour and the oxygen passing through this stave joints softens the tannins.
Maturing wines in this fashion is a nightmare in terms of both attention to
detail and maintenance, but the results, according to Mark, are worth it. The balance of the blends are matured in barriques.
So far, what we have seen is certainly a lot more rustic and less high-tech
than I would have expected. As well as the slate fermenters,
there are literally hundreds of other more modern
stainless steel fermenters that can be moved around
from place-to-place with forklifts, but the old fashioned process are still
used through the whole operation; with a twist. For example, instead of using
the more common wooden baskets in the presses, they make their own aluminium
(stainless steel?) baskets on site for much of the pressing work
In terms of oak treatment, the winery uses
about 60% French and 40% American.
Once we got into the barrel room, the size and
scope of the winery started to become apparent. Every single barrel is
individually numbered and kept within its batch. There is normally around 14
barrels in each batch and some wines will have over a hundred batches in its
final configuration. Not only is every batch of wine kept separate but every
barrel is kept separate until last moment when the wines are blended. When you
consider that there are 30 products to make up, the task must be awesome and
most of the time they are working with multiple vintages of wines. The
logistics and complexity of keeping track of about 9000 barrels at any one time
is beyond belief.
.................The Old Basket Press......................The New Homemade Aluminium Press
Every single individual barrel is checked on a
regular basis. If you think that is difficult, consider the work involved when it
comes to blending decisions, when every single barrel is up for
Just prior to the last vintage they went
through and checked every single barrel; the Shiraz component alone took two
and a half weeks. There were two tastings a day, morning and afternoon, with up
to 270 barrels assessed per time. Decisions need to be made. Does each barrel
match the batch? Does the batch match the barrels? Is each batch in the right
category for the wine it is intending to go into? Should some of them be moved
sideways, elevated or dropped down? And it's not just a simple of the logistics
of tasting the wine. Barrels need to be moved, batches need to be moved,
glasses need to be washed and so it goes on. The task is gigantic. It is only
when you consider that the complexities involved in this mammoth task that you
truly get an appreciation for not only how large this winery is, but the
attention to detail that goes into making their wines.
After the winery tour, we were taken to a special tasting room where there was a huge array of
wines to work through. Joining us on the tour was a husband and wife team from
a WA wine retailer and they started at one end and worked their way right
through the range. Needless to say, I skipped the c-through section and went
straight into the reds. Even then, with the amount of time available I decided
to only taste selected bottles as taking notes takes time.
There were 19 bottles sealed under cork and four
of them were suffering from cork-related defects. One could easily say this is
an aberration in the law of averages, however given the number of times similar
instances occurred on this tour, I am not sure this is the case. It may be
possible that Australia is become the recipient
of poorer quality corks than had previously been the case and that over the
next few years we will see a rising incident in the level of cork taint. If
that is the case, the acceptance of alternative closures will continue to
escalate and over time the cork industry will go the way of (horse and) buggy
Now onto the tasting
d'Arenberg 2003 High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $18 at
cellar door. Deeply seated ripe fruit drives the wine and delivers aniseed,
blackberry, leafy notes and chocolate. Although the consistency is firm, to the
point of being almost hard, there is a rich mouthful of fruit that delivers
good value for the dollar. Rated as Acceptable with *** for value.
d'Arenberg 2003 The Cadenziasells for $25 at cellar
door and is a GSM blend. The bouquet shows good complexity with sweet upfront
raspberry fruit that dominates the profile. Although there are abundant
fine-grain tannins they do not get in the way and the wine is well-balanced.
Very sweet on the uptake with an equally off sweet mid-palate which finishes to
dark blackberry and meaty flavours. Muscular-weight with a firm consistency,
solid structure and well-developed complexity; this is a good quality wine but
a love it, or hate it style. Rated as Highly Recommended with ****for value.
2002 d’ArrysOrigionalis a Grenache Shiraz
blend and sells for $18 at cellar door. The bouquet shows good complexity with
loads of sweet notes but luckily, this is not replicated on the palate. The
sweet uptake immediately turns off-sweet with savoury spices; there is nothing
NutraSweet about this baby, raspberry, dark chocolate, plums and meaty flavours
all finish with great intensity. Muscular-weight, the wine is well-balanced
with fine, grippy, drying tannins and fresh youthful
acid. With a sensational bang for the buck, it is rated asHighly Recommended with ****for value.
d'Arenberg 2003 The Sticks and Stones sells for $35 at cellar door
and is a blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Souzao. I tasted this at Wine
Australia last November and at that stage I didn't like it at all. but it looked much better on this occasion. Well built and
well-balanced, it needs time to develop and come together. On the palate, the
wine is extremely interesting. It is certainly not sweet on the uptake, but
there is an undercurrent of sweet fruit running through the wine that is
pleasantly contrasted by fresh acidity. Loads of oak character and rich dark
chocolate add to the diverse complexity of this muscular-weight wine. Rated asHighly Recommended with *** for value.
d'Arenberg 2003 The Galvo Garage sells for $30 at cellar door and is a
traditional Bordeaux blend. The bouquet was
brooding but varietal and attractive. The wine has been well put together with
fine-grained smooth tannins which provide a very firm consistency and solid,
tight structure. Very spicy, off sweet on the uptake with a sweet under layer;
flavours include pepper, blackcurrant, blackberry, coffee and a leafy finish.
Ample in weight, with a well-developed complexity, the wine is worth putting
down for a few years. Rated asRecommendedwith *** for value, the
rating should improve as the wine matures.
d'Arenberg2002 The Twenty Eight Roadis a straight Mourvedre and sells for $35 at
cellar door and will be released later this year, probably around July. Surprisingly enough,
this was my wine of the tasting. The bouquet is brooding with dark rich
chocolate and meat; this is as serious as a meeting with your accountant, but a
whole lot more enjoyable. The huge intensity of flavour is well matched to the
searing tannins, youthful acid and abundant oak. Perfectly balanced and
constructed, the wine has huge length and great persistence; it’s off-sweet and
finishes with savoury notes and chocolate. There is nothing subtle about this
full-bodied wine with its solid, layered structure and sophisticated
complexity; but it is sensational. Rated asExcellent with ****for value,
it should be approachable in 2010 and beyond.
d'Arenberg 2002 The Ironstone Pressings is their top GSM blend
and sells for $60 at cellar door. A big brooding nose showing blackberry,
chocolate and earthy mushroom notes. The palate shows more Mourvedre and Shiraz character than
Grenache; spice, chocolate, rich and dark, with coffee and meaty characters,
this is a serious wine. A full-bodied wine that is a babe-in-arms and needs at
least another five years to show its best, it is rated asHighly Recommended with ** for value and the rating will
probably go up as the wine matures. This is one of the best GSM’s around.
d'Arenberg 2003 The Dead Arm sells for $60 at cellar door and will be released later
The bouquet exhibited charred oak but the fruit is up to the task. The wine has
only been recently bottled so it is currently all over the place but it has
sensational, rich dark fruit that is deeply seated. It finishes long with dark
coffee, Lindt 85% dark chocolate and mint. Whilst there is some slight
sappiness to the mid-palate, the wine is still attractive and is bang on style.
Naturally it is a full-bodied wine, with a firm consistency, a solid structure
that is still tight, and a well-developed complexity. Once it gets a little
bottle age, I expected to be rated as Excellent.
There was one “interesting” occurrence that
took place during the tasting. In the early part of the tasting, I was trying wines
well ahead of the pack and stated that I thought one particular wine was
corked. Our host briefly tried the wine in question and categorically dismissed my assessment
and said “no, the wine was fine.” As I was 100% sure the wine was corked, I did
not review it and moved on. About 10 minutes later I came across another wine
that I was confident was also defective but was not game to say anything and
just passed on to the next wine in the line up. When Mark got to the wine that
I had stated was corked, after tasting it and then waxing lyrical about it for
a minute or two, he decided it was corked and opened another bottle. At no
stage did he apologise for putting me down in front of the four other people. I
might add that the second bottle that I thought was defective was replaced when
Mark got to it.
Is this the wineries secret
Whys so much kitty litter?..................
In summary, d'Arenberg is certainly a winery that runs like
a well-oiled machine; Chester is an extremely
talented winemaker and a capable businessman. No wonder the quality of the wine
is so good year in and year out. The attention to detail that is required to
run a winery in this fashion boggles the mind. For example, at the low-end it
would be so much simpler to use huge stainless-steel tanks instead of the
1920’s wooden casks, but then the wine wouldn't have that lovely mouth feel. It
would also be so much easier to start blending the wine in the early stages,
but then the chances are the quality of the wine wouldn't be as good. Clearly
the attention to detail, combined with talented
winemaking and clever vineyard management are some of the reasons why this
winery is so successful. The winery has just about reached its maximum capacity
and once the current renovation is a complete, that will be it; production will
be capped. The winery has now been classified by the National Trust so there
will be no further expansion of the buildings. The only new project on the
drawing board is for a Sangiovese and that will take some time before it
finally comes to market.
The wines tasted showed the 2003 wines are
clearly more approachable than their 2002 counterparts. Whilst the mouth feel
of the 2003 wines are good, in some way the tannins from this vintage are
harder, and in general, I preferred most of the 02’s. The visit was an eye
opener and I learned much about the secrets behind this winery’s deserved
success; the attention to detail is mind blowing. Mark, our host, certainly is
a great ambassador for the brand.
No one could walk away from a tour like that
without being impressed so Brian and John decided a dose of reality was called
for and, unfortunately, it was off to the local McLaren Vale bakery for lunch.
I don't know why John keeps going back to this place, every time he does he
complains the pies are not as good as they used to be but that did not stop the
Pie King having a couple of them, although his trademark coffee milk was
missing. Brian, knowing this, is obviously a glutton for punishment because he
had a pie too. I'm beginning to be concerned about Brian's pie-eating habits,
here I was thinking he was into gourmet tastes and fine food and it looks like
he may be a closet pie-eating junkie. Mind you, my choice of a healthy
wholemeal bread roll with chicken and salad tasted extremely ordinary too.
McLaren Vale is well-known for its almonds; in
fact the area originally grew more almonds than grapes. One secret of keeping
your palate halfway sane when tasting big reds all day is to refresh your mouth
by either chewing on bread, dry biscuits or nuts. With this in mind, Brian
brought a couple of packets of locally grown almonds. When Brian offered John
an almond, his Pieship said "personally I feel
almonds taste a lot better when they are cashews.”
During my visit last May, I spent time touring
an ancient derelict building at the start of the main road into McLaren Vale;
"handy man's dream or renovator's delight” would have been the
understatement of the year when describing what has now become a swish, classy-
looking cellar door. This newly restored and renovated building is home to Fonthill Winery and they also showcase
the Anvers range. Brian was
particularly keen to try the range but I concentrated on the wines I had not
2002 Shiraz Cabernet sells for $22 at cellar door. The bouquet showed a touch
of blackberry, dusty, leafy notes, pepper, blackcurrant and chocolate. With
blackberry on the uptake, a spicy mid-palate with zingy acid, and chocolate;
the intense blackberry finished with good persistence. Good tannin management
backed a solid, firm wine of ample-weight with a diverse complexity. Worth
trying for something a little different, the wine may get a little better when
the acid settles down around 2007; it is rated as Acceptable with *** for
Anvers 2002 Langhorne Creek Cabernet sells for $28 at cellar door. The
bouquet shows clean fruit which is dominated by dusty oak. The palate delivers
ripe fruit on the uptake with savoury, sappy blackberry on the mid-palate and
finish; it is not as obviously oaky as the bouquet
suggests. Well-balanced with unobtrusive smooth tannins, and refreshing acid;
there is enough fruit to complete the package. Ample-weight with a firm but
supple consistency and an agreeable complexity, this is a nice wine that should
improve as it matures. Rated asRecommendedwith *** for value.
Fonthill 2003 Dust of Ages Grenache sells for $25 at cellar door. Not your
average lolly sweet Grenache, the bouquet shows good complexity with
interesting nuances; raspberry, pepper, milk chocolate cherry and earthy notes.
Deeply-seated, obvious fruit delivers an off-sweet peppery uptake with milk
chocolate and liquorice that finishes to savoury spice and coffee over a layer
of slightly sweet underlying fruit flavours which is further complemented and
offset by fresh acid. A well-constructed, attractive wine
with a creamy mouth feel, it is medium-weight with an intricate
complexity. There is nothing simple about this baby; it is a more seriously
structured Grenache and is worth consideration. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating
may increase as the wine matures around 2009.
Fonthill 2002 Silk Road Shiraz is a wine that I'd tried previously, but
unfortunately the last bottle was slightly corked and did not give a true
indication of the wine. The bouquet is interesting, a little different but most
definitely closed down. The wine is well-balanced and constructed with tight,
abundant, long drying tannins, fresh acid and pure fruit. Sweet ripe fruit,
coffee, blackberry and chocolate flavour are terrific but unfortunately it’s
marred by a sappy green oak characteristic. Muscular-weight, the wine may be
going through an awkward period. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating may improve as
the wine matures.
Our next appointment was with one of the
larger-than-life characters: Tony Delisio. He runs one of my
favourite wineries in McLaren Vale, Classic McLaren Wines. (When spell checking
with Microsoft Word, the first suggested replacement for “Delisio”
is “Delusion”. ) I have been buying
wine from Tony since the early days, before he was even making commercial
quantities of wine. In the early to mid-1990s he started making a homebrew and
to say it was “pretty good” would be like saying a Newfoundland is a big dog.
Tony Delisio ................................
When Tony first started making small commercial quantities
of wine, his La Testa 1997 Shiraz was awarded a
brand-changing 98 points by Robert Parker. Now anyone who knows Tony will
realise that he is not exactly short of self-confidence; in fact saying he is
not short of self-confidence is like saying a Chihuahua is a small dog. This
98 rating was a boost Tony didn't need in more ways than one. The price of the Shiraz went from $50 to $120
overnight and Tony believed he would be able to sell everything he could
produce with ease and had absolutely nothing to worry about. Whilst that might
be true with the tiny volumes he was producing at that time, but as production
volume climbs, it becomes more difficult as the ‘rarity factor’ has
Never wishing to do anything by half, Tony
found a financial partner with extremely deep pockets and in the last five
years or so, about $10 million has been invested in the operation. In that
time, Tony has built a winery from scratch that is now loaded with inventory. When you consider the state of the wine industry, to quote Yes Minister, "that's a courageous move."
Over the past few years, Tony and I have had a
number of frank and open conversations. Tony is a sensational winemaker and has
access to first-class fruit; you can take that statement to the bank! On the
negative side of the ledger, whilst he has been building up huge amounts of
inventory I kept on telling him the price of his La Testa range was too high
and even more importantly, he had better work out how and where he was going to
sell the stock. Every time I visited the winery, especial in the last two
years, the growth in buildings, winemaking equipment and most importantly
barrels of wine, has been phenomenal.
During this visit, whilst Tony was as
irrepressible as ever, it was however apparent that the pressure of inventory
and the need to move wine was starting to show; but then anyone who had so much
unsold wine and was trying to break into a market would be feeling the strain.
There are currently two ranges of wine in their
portfolio. Whilst I may have criticised Tony in the past over the pricing of
the La Testa range, over the last couple of years the prices have been reduced
and all of them except the Shiraz are in the ballpark.
At the other extreme, the Classic
(formerly CMC) range is absolutely sensational value and
finding this level of quality at this price point is rare; the range over-delivers
big-time in terms of value.
Start off with pristine, top-quality fruit, add
clever winemaking and mature all the wines in Rolls-Royce quality French oak
prior to releasing them with a few years of the bottle age and you have the basis
of a successful wine business -- but there is one thing missing; a realistic
marketing plan. Unfortunately this has been the single biggest weakness in the
operation and one that is now coming back to haunt the business, which is a
pity because they make some of the best wine in McLaren Vale. The current range
of wines are from the 2001 vintage and according to Tony, export sales are
going well, it's the domestic sales for the holding things up. I reviewed the
2001 wines during my last visit and my tasting notes for those can be found here (half
way down the page.) If you haven't tried their wines, contact the winery and
organise yourself a mixed tasting pack, you won't be disappointed.
On this visit, we were greeted by a new four-month old
German Shepherd that Tony thought should be named
“Cappuccino”, due to the milk-coffee colour of his coat. Even at this tender
age, Tony’s wife Krys, has done an exceptionally good job of training him and
Tony is concerned for two reasons. Firstly, when Krys
tells him to do something, unlike Tony, the dog does what it is told, and
according to Tony, when the dog is sitting there it looks smarter than Tony. Whilst we were tasting the wine, at one
point the dog brought over its empty water bowl and dropped it at Tony's feet;
now that’s smart for a four-month old pup. But as smart as the dog may be, it's
not a smart as the wine.
Classic McLaren 2002 Grenache sells for $16 at cellar door by the dozen.
Cropped at 1 1/2 tonnes to the acre, the bouquet is attractive and unusual for
an Australian Grenache with intense blackberry, spice, white pepper and milk
chocolate. Deep, strong fruit has fantastic intensity and power delivering the
blackberry, plum, blackcurrant, rich chocolate and white pepper. A
medium-weight wine with a supple consistency, an intricate, well developed and
refined complexity, the wine should become seamless in time. Naturally, it's a
good food wine and has definite Rhône style
characters, but more guts and finesse. Rated as Recommended with ***** for value, drink over the next
Classic McLaren 2002 La Testa Grenache sells for $32 at cellar door. A
deeper more concentrated wine than the CMC, it has lovely aromatics with
coffee from the French oak. Despite its 15% alcohol, there is no heat and the
silky tannins provide a seamless structure. The flavour profile is 100% savoury
with coffee and blackberry flavours finishing with great power and length. The
complexity is already well developed and harmonious, this is a bloody serious
Grenache and one that I would be happy to drink at any time; in fact it was so
good, I didn't want to spit it. Rated as Highly
Recommended with ***for value, the
rating may improve as the wine reaches maturity over the next six years.
Classic McLaren 2002 Cabernet Merlot sells for $18 at cellar door. The bouquet is both
leafy and varietal showing blackberry, milk chocolate and dusty oak. Chewy,
slightly-coarse drying tannins combined with distinct fruit to form an
ample-weight, firm, solid wine with an agreeable
complexity. Ripe blackberry, dark chocolate, mint, leafy characters and coffee
grows on you as you drink it. It should be a good food wine and may improve
with a little time. Not the best wine from this winery but still credible.
Rated as Recommended with **** for value
Classic McLaren 2002 Shiraz sells for $22 at cellar door. The oak is noticeable on the
bouquet with hints of char, mocha, spice and liquorice aromas. Pure, deep,
strong fruit together with smooth, chewy tannins form the backbone for this
firm, full-bodied wine with a well developed complexity that has all the
components but needs time to come together. A big wine with loads of
everything, the oak influence is obvious; savoury through and through with
liquorice, briary black fruit (a product of the cool growing season) and coffee
essence; there is enough fruit to balance the oak. Rated as Recommended with **** for
value, the rating may improve as the wine matures; it is sensational value and
worth buying. I like it and I will!
Classic McLaren 2002 La Testa Merlot sells for $39 at cellar door. I'm not a fan of
straight Merlot but this is definitely one of the better ones available; it's a
damn serious wine. Deep, strong fruit is savoury, delivering black coffee
essence, plum and black chocolate flavours that finish long and dry. There are
loads of oak characters which will eventually integrate and this solid,
ample-weight wine should peak around 2009. Rated asHighly Recommended with *** for value.
Classic McLaren 2002 La Testa Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $45 at cellar door. A
varietally leafy nose, perfumed blackcurrant and dusty oak are all proudly
displayed. Deep, pure fruit and smooth, chewy tannins provide all the
components that this wine will need, but it will take years for it to show its
best; about 2012 should do the trick. Intensely savoury with black olives,
coffee and leafy flavours; it is bloody big wine; its firm and solid with a
well developed complexity that will improve. Rated as Highly
Recommended with *** for value, the rating
should increase as the wine matures, and even at this time, it has enough flavour
to cut through the chilli almonds that Brian was chewing on.
Classic McLaren 2002 La Testa Blend sells for $36 at cellar door and is a blend of 50% Shiraz, 40% Grenache and 10% Cabernet. An
unusual blend but one that I invariably enjoy; the bouquet shows incredible
diversity. Perfectly-balanced and constructed, abundant, smooth tannins and
strong, concentrated, pure fruit combine to form a full-bodied wine with a firm
but supple consistency, a diverse complexity that is already harmonious; it should
become seamless in time. The palate is deeply-brooding and dense with
blackberry, blackcurrant and mint; the flavours have fantastic intensity. One
of the best wines in the line up, it is rated as Highly Recommended with ****for value.
Classic McLaren 2002 La Testa Shiraz sells for $90 at cellar door. Intense and inviting
coffee bean, blackberry and milk chocolate dominate the bouquet. The wine is
supremely balanced and structured with ultra-fine, tightly-grained tannins and
pure, deep strong fruit. Coffee, black pepper, cedar oak with some charry
influence; there is enough black fruit to absorb the oak; and it finishes with
long drying chocolate and coffee flavours. Muscular-weight, with a supple
consistency, the wine is still tight and the solid structure should become
seamless in time. Complexity is well developed and will improve. An impressive,
classy package with an authoritative power-to-weight ratio, it is rated asExcellentwith ** for value, it should peak
From there, we went and tasted through a huge range of
barrel samples. In a good winery, this is one way to get a true appreciation of
what is really going on. For example, when we got to the La Testa Grenache,
Tony told us the fruit came from Yangara Estate, a
property that is considered to have some of the best old vine Grenache in the
district. Luckily, it is on the "right side" of the road; if it was
on the other side of the road it would not be deemed McLaren Vale and would
have to be called Adelaide Hills. The grapes that go into this wine come from
four different parcels, all with different soil profiles and all contributing
something different. This particular Yangara property
provides grapes that are primarily about structure; and what great structure.
What Tony really drinks
Speaking of structure, Tony does not believe in adding tannin to wine.
If the viticulture is correct and there are enough blending options, is not
required and any minor adjustments can be made using oak; an interesting
philosophy and way of doing things. Whilst tasting my way through the 2002
wines, although the tannins were very fine, they did not seem quite as fine as
the previous vintages. When I mentioned this to Tony, he told me that it is no
longer using fully imported barrels. The barrels are put together in Australia and whilst the oak is still very
high quality, it is certainly not the Rolls-Royce treatment that he was using
previously. I guess in time, once the tannins soften and integrate, these later
wines will still be very good, I am not sure if they will ever have the ultra
fine tannins and wonderful mouth feel of the previous vintages.
Nevertheless, the myriad of barrels samples we tried showed
the fantastic quality and consistency of the wine being made here. This winery
really has potential to be a forced to be reckoned with in the McLaren Vale
area; ….now if they can just work out a realistic marketing plan. In the
meantime, get in on the ground floor and buy some of those 2001’s, as I have
said previously, you won't be sorry.
Brian John and Sue - notice the subtle message on the
Pie Kings Apron!..
But who is doing the cooking?...................................
What a great
way to finish the working day; every single wine and barrel sample we tried was
high-quality and credible and that says it all. It was only a ten minute drive
back to Pie King Bridge Vineyards but John being hungry, did it in seven. As
soon as we were there, John produced a plate of three different types of cheese
and Brian opened a bottle of the recently released Turkey Flat Sparkling
Shiraz. The cheese plate was just what the doctor called for, and fortunately
the same could not be said for the FRS, and this time the emphasis was on
the “S”. Much debate took place about the wine and whether it was off or not,
to my palate it was either off or undrinkable, the distinction did not make a
lot of difference. It had a bad sulphur-dioxide stink and taste that never
really blew off completely. None of us were too concerned about it because
there was plenty more to drink and we were going to Turkey Flat in a few days
time and would re-taste it there. (I’ve had another from the same batch and it
I opened a bottle of Rosemount 1996 Balmoral Shiraz which
is drinking superbly now. It has entered its peak drinking window but should
hold for some years to come. Brian served a masked bottle of wine. It opened up
to be extremely stinky and dominated by smoky oak. After an hour in the
decanter, the stink dissipated and the fruit started to surface. The wine was
medium-weight and had lovely fruit under the smoky oak. The wine turned out to
be a New Zealand Shiraz (Brookfield 2002 Hillside Syrah).
John decided to do another low calorie dinner, this time a
barbecued mixed grill; just what my cholesterol needed. Sue prepared a
delicious salad; I could have happily made a meal out of it. I decided to have
an early night as we were leaving for Coonawarra at the following morning. The trip to
Coonawarra is always special so stay tuned for the next chapter, where you will
read all about it, in all its gory detail.