The May 2005 South Australian Tour Diaries
Chapter Three – Monday – McLaren Vale
Up early but not as early as normal; there was not much point as Hosanna was asleep in the lounge room so I was unable to check my email. I did get up early enough to go for a walk and what a difference three months makes to the ambience and conditions. In February, it was the start of vintage, and about six cars drove past me on this quiet country road. Also, because many people were awake numerous dogs came out to bark at me. On this May morning, now that vintage is over, everyone must be sleeping in. Not one car went past and only one dog barked at me. However, on my morning walk I did meet a couple of John's next-door neighbours and although we hadn't been formally introduced, they did come up to say hello and were reasonably friendly. I think some of their relatives live next door to me.
Every once in a while, John comes up with a gem of an idea, and last night over dinner he came up with one that actually proved that he is worth feeding. We were discussing the size of a bottle of wine and how there are frequently times when 750 ml is just too much. John's suggestion is certainly novel and wonderful exercise in lateral thinking. Here's what you do. Instead of opening one bottle, you open two different 750 ml bottles of wine. You'll also need two empty 500 ml bottles for this trick (fortified wine bottles do nicely or even the Grolsch swing-top beer bottles). Decant 500 ml from each of the full bottles into the empties; seal each of the 500 ml bottles with the corks that came from the 750’s and place the 500 ml bottles in the fridge. You now have two different wines to drink on night one; 250 ml of each in their original bottles. On nights two and three, you have two perfectly stored bottles of fresh wine to drink; just pull them out the fridge a couple of hours before you want to drink them. The guy is not just a pretty face ; boy is he not a pretty face!
Brian christened this method "The Pie King method of double-decanting” and commented on what a good idea it was. I also thought it was a pretty smart idea, even if it was the first one from John in years. John's retort was "now that I've had one, I had better lie down from while; this thinking lark is very taxing.”
After this brainwave, John came up with his new grape marketing strategy: "Pie King Bridge Vineyards - ordinary grapes at ordinary prices, maintained and managed by an ordinary vigneron.” It may be truth in advertising, but it does prove that “this thinking lark is very taxing" for John.
As John was on holidays, he decided that being slack (well slacker than usual) was permissible and refused to cook our breakfast. So once again, it was off to Koffee and Snax in McLaren Vale for breakfast. I decided to be good and ordered wholemeal toast, but whilst the mind is strong, the spirit is weak and I succumbed to one of their muffins as well. They are sensational!
Our first appointment was at nine o'clock at Pirramimma. I did a complete story on this winery in the 2003 Tour Diaries but always look forward to returning and trying their latest releases. This winery works on the principle of "if it's not broken don't fix it" and "slowly, slowly catchee monkey.” They are one of the most consistent, if not the most consistent producer in the $15 - $25 price bracket in McLaren Vale. Quite possibly, one of the reasons for this consistency is that all the fruit used in their wines comes from their own family estate grown vines, and they are not exactly newcomers to the business, having been established since 1892. In Australia there are not many wineries that have been going for over 110 years, let alone ones that have remained under the same family ownership for that long.
Pirramimma 2002 Hillsview Cabernet Merlot sells for $16 at cellar door. The bouquet exhibited lifted alcohol with a touch of varnished oak over ripe fruit. Clean and well made, it is smooth on the uptake but has a good backbone to support its solid structure and soft consistency. Medium-weight with an agreeable complexity, it is an easy-drinking, fruit-driven wine that would be perfect in a bistro situation. Plum, berry, chocolate and aniseed; it's not overly sweet and good value for the dollars. Rated as Acceptable with *** for value.
Pirramimma 2002 Stocks Hill Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $16 at cellar door. An attractive, soft fruity nose showing dusty varietal Cabernet characteristics with lots of mint and milk chocolate; it is a solid, credible wine that is well-made and well-balanced. Truly varietal, with red and blue fruits, the abundant mint is attractive; the palate then flows to chocolate and finishes with a slightly herbaceous character. Plenty of dusty tannins provide a solid backbone; and whilst the supple consistency is harmonious, the agreeable complexity enables the wine to be approachable now; it will improve over the next three years. Rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Pirramimma 2002 Stocks Hill Shiraz sells for $16 at cellar door. It shows a soft fruity nose with blackberry, pepper, earthy notes and coconut. Unobtrusive, smooth dusty tannins produce a supple mouth feel and provide a solid, almost seamless structure and they are well matched to the pure, deep fruit. A very approachable, ample-weight wine with an excellent mouth feel, it is squeaky clean, harmonious and incredibly drinkable; it would be a great party wine. Spice, black fruits, a touch of aniseed, and coconut flavours all finished dry. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, drink over the next four years.
New labels for the c-through range ……………
Pirramimma 2003 Old Bush Vine Grenache sells for $18 at cellar door and has just been released. The wine has been produced from 60 year old, hand-picked bush vines (there is no other way to pick them.) The bouquet is unusual for a Grenache; it shows some sweet fruit but is predominantly spicy with a touch of toasted oak influence. A “well wine”; that's well-structured, well-balanced and well-made. Made in the style that shows what Grenache should be like; red cherry, spice, milk chocolate and eucalyptus flavours are well supported by long, smooth dusty tannins. Medium-weight with a solid structure and an agreeable, harmonious complexity, is rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Pirramimma 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon is just being released and sells for $26 at cellar door. After tasting this wine, the first thing I wrote was “absolutely worth buying, it's an underrated label.” It's got all the things good wines need; great fruit, terrific structure and balance. Silky, drying tannins have an excellent mouth-feel and make the wine approachable already, whilst providing a solid structure, and firm, but supple consistency. The pure, deeply-seated fruit delivers substantial blackcurrant, ripe chocolate and mint flavours that are varietally correct and finish both long and with excellent persistence. This muscular-weight wine is rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value and should peak around 2009 and beyond.
Pirramimma 2002 Petit Verdot is just being released and sells for $26 at cellar door and 4,000 cases have been produced. A smart, well-made wine with abundant dusty tannins supporting deeply seated fruit that delivers musk, liquorice, dark chocolate and violet flavours; it finishes with excellent persistence. Ample-weight with a firm consistency, solid structure and diverse complexity; this is worth buying for something different but needs time to show its best. It has an old-fashioned structure, but that is good; rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures in 2008 and beyond.
Pirramimma 2002 Shiraz is just being released and sells for $26 at cellar door. I wrote a note to myself on the tasting note sheet that said “must buy.” The bouquet was closed but I was able to coax some liquorice, blackberry and char/smoky oak. An excellent, soft mouth -feel; but don't be fooled, there is a solid wall of smooth tannins to back up the pure, deep fruit that delivers ripe, blackberry with chocolate and a slightly bitter finish. It's a voluptuous wine without being fat or alcoholic and should age well. Muscular-weight, it's still tight but the complexity is well developed and harmonious; there is some smart winemaking in play here. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, I will be drinking mine in 2009 and beyond.
As an aside, seven bottles were opened and two of them were corked. I do not have any statistical data to back up a gut feel, but after what we found on this trip, I would not be surprised to find that in the future, the level of TCA in Australian wines sealed under cork is increasing. The existing rate is already horrific, so any increase will be completely unacceptable and just hasten the acceptance of alternative closures.
Once again, Pirramimma turned out to be completely consistent and it's just a pity there are not more wineries that can do it this well, in this price range.
Everyone takes pictures of “Shadow” the Fox Creek dog,
…… This is the Fox Creek Pussy cat.
We didn’t have an appointment, or indeed need one for our next stop at Fox Creek; I had tasted the majority of the current releases previously. The one thing I specifically did want to try was the current release of the Vixen. It is one of the very few sparkling reds at less than $20 that I'm happy to drink although I always check first as only one in every two or three tirages is purchased as the style seems to oscillate, there have been a series of winemakers for this wine. Unfortunately the current one, although there is nothing particularly wrong with it, will not be one of them.
Fox Creek 2003 Short Row Shiraz which sells for $28 is sealed in Stelvins and the bottle had been freshly opened. The bouquet showed ripe, black fruits and are some slightly reductive characters. The very soft mouth feel is attractive and the distinct, very-sweet fruit delivers blackberry, blackcurrant, aniseed and olive. A smooth, easy-drinking, medium-weight wine with a supple consistency and an agreeable complexity, it is not their best effort but gets extra points for the mouth-feel. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
The first time I visited Sylvan Springs, it was to taste in 1999 vintage and I walked away from that visit mighty impressed with these new players, especially in regard to value. The next three visits were a little patchy and nowhere near as impressive. When I visited last year, as I was going to be tasting the 2002’s, I was hoping for good things but walked away a little disappointed, mainly because I thought the fruit was being overshadowed by charry oak, a characteristic in wine that does not do anything positive for me. Based on last year's experience, I was not expecting a great deal as 2003 had not exactly been a flash vintage. When I arrived, they suggested I retaste the 2002 wines to see how they had progressed. As I was the guest, it would have been a bit rude to refuse, but I was not looking forward to the experience.
Sylvan Springs 2002 Shiraz sells for $18 at cellar door. I took one sniff and thought “oh no, here we go again;” ripe plummy black fruit below charry oak and then I tasted the wine. Well, I'll be damned, it's much better than the nose suggests and way better than the wine I tasted last year. The wine has a pleasant, soft approachable mouth feel; with an attractive sweet uptake with savoury offsetting nuances, there is enough plum, chocolate, blackberry (and lots of) liquorice to manage the charry oak. Muscular-weight, with silky tannins and a firm consistency, the complexity is very agreeable. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, drink over the next five years.
Sylvan Springs 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $18 at cellar door. The bouquet was varietal, a bit broody, but the fruit looks ripe and good. Tightly-grained, dusty tannins combined with distinct, obvious fruit to produce a well-balanced wine with a good structure and mouth-feel. There is a touch of char, blackberry, spice, plum and choc-mint; this wine has come a long way in the last 12 months. Ample-weight, with a supple consistency, it should become seamless as it matures around 2007 and beyond. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, this is now certainly worth buying and there is probably some still available. If my cellar wasn't overflowing, this would definitely be a high priority purchase.
The red roof in the top centre is Pie King Bridge Vineyards…..
Homestead - as seen from Sylvan Springs ……………
Sylvan Springs 2004 Rams Revenge Shiraz sells for $13.50 at cellar door. This is a new entry-level wine that has been designed for immediate consumption and is sealed in Stelvin. The nose is driven by a ripe, red and blue berry fruits and some minor earthy aromas with eucalyptus spectrum scents. Ample-weight, with a soft consistency, seamless structure and an agreeable, harmonious complexity; this is a great party wine or a perfect choice in the bistro. Gob fulls of ripe berry fruit with rich chocolate slide down very easily. Rated as Acceptable with **** for value, it would also be perfect to drink when you are entertaining non-wine lovers and want something drinkable yourself.
Sylvan Springs 2003 Shiraz will sell for $18.90 when it is released in July. The bouquet is tight but shows terrific fruit and although there is some minor char influence, it is not offensive. Tannins are silky-smooth, but there is enough to hold the wine together and produce a sensuous mouth feel. There is more than enough ripe, seductive fruit to absorb the char and fill the mouth with plum, blackcurrant, aniseed, blackberry and chocolate. Ample-weight, with a firm consistency and solid, almost seamless structure; with its harmonious, agreeable complexity this is a terrific wine for the price that will only get better and cannot fail to please. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as its drunk between 2006 and 2010.
Sylvan Springs 2003 Cabernet will sell for $18.90 when it is released in July. The brooding bouquet shows seductive characters, some char and clean fruit. Come in fruit sluts!! The ripe, blackcurrant and plum flavours may not be exactly varietally correct for a Cabernet, but it has produced a "nice red" that should be extremely popular with the masses. Smooth, silky tannins, unobtrusive acid and pure, deep, persistent fruit combine to form an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, a seamless structure and a harmonious complexity. It easy drinking, it should improve in the short term and rated as Recommended with **** for value. Where's the party?
I walked in not expecting much, but walked out with a smile on my face. Firstly, the last twelve months has done the 2002 wines the world of good. They are far better now that the fruit has absorbed the char and I would be happy to drink them at any time. The 2003’s show a slight change in direction, with the wines being more fruit driven and now moving into the "soft mouth-feel, easy-drinking" category. In fact, there is nothing wrong with that market segment and these wines are very competitive. Having said that, the 2003 Shiraz has more structure than the Cabernet, and will be a longer lasting wine; in previous vintage, their Cabernet always had more structure than the Shiraz. Although Cabernet is hard to move, the 2003 has a chance of being a success because of its “fruit” appeal. If the wines keep going in this direction, it looks like this winery will have found their niche after wandering around for a few years.
I had previously tried to 2003 Rams Revenge and thought it was very ordinary; the 2004 is certainly worth buying if you are looking in the $13.50 price bracket and is a good addition to their line up.
From there, we had just enough time for a very quick stop at Woodstock Wine before our next appointment. Brian looked right at home there. The grounds of the winery are certainly attractive, indeed probably one of the most attractive in the district. I have not had a great deal of experience with this winery’s products and have had mixed feelings about those that I have tried, so I really did not know what to expect when we walked in the door.
Woodstock 2002 Shiraz sells for $20 at cellar door. A very classy, ripe nose showing blue spectrum fruit and milk chocolate; certainly not a blockbuster style. With an attractive mouth feel, excellent balance and construction; the deep, pure fruit delivers red plum, blackcurrant, chocolate, and aniseed with the long persistent finish. Medium-weight with a firm but almost silky consistency, the structure is solid and elegant; complexity is refined and well-developed, this is a very smart wine for the price. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, it should peak around 2007 and beyond.
Woodstock 2002 The Stocks sells for $50 at cellar door. After taking one sniff, I knew this wine was not for me, but there is no doubting its quality. A solid, firm wine that is well-balanced with pure fruit and abundant dusty tannins, with loads of oak that needs time to be absorbed. Char on the uptake, with blackberry, mulberry, a touch of pepper, liquorice and chocolate, the finish is persistent. Ample-weight with a well-developed complexity, this is a baby that needs time. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, it's possible the rating may improve as the wine matures around 2010 and beyond.
With only two wines tasted quickly, it's hard to walk away with a solid impression of the winery although I must admit, I walked out with the same impression that my previously experiences had provided; mixed feelings.
Our next appointment was at Tatachilla. I normally look forward to my visits here because you can bet that you will almost always find some inexpensive-but-good "cheap" wines, some credible mid range wines and some top shelf wines that are bound to make their way into the cellar. Unusually on this trip, although the new labels look good, in some cases they are more exciting than the contents of the bottle. I am not sure if that is as a result of the changes in the winemaking team or as a result of some of the wines being from difficult vintages. The one facet I did find disingenuous is placing the name of the current winemaker on a wine that they have not made and have had nothing to do with. If the winery does not wish to promote the name of the winemaker who is no longer employed by them, that's perfectly understandable, and in that case, they should just have the decency to leave the name of the winemaker off the label instead of trying to promote a false impression.
Tatachilla 2002 Keystone Grenache Shiraz sells for $17 at cellar door. The bouquet shows very ripe red-spectrum fruit, a touch of white pepper and composted earth. A fruit driven, medium-weight wine with minimal unobtrusive tannins; the mouth feel is soft, the structure seamless and the complexity whilst simple, is harmonious. Sweet cherry with off-sweet milk chocolate and a minty finish, this wine will appeal to casual drinkers who normally don't go for reds. Rated as Acceptable with *** for value.
Tatachilla 2003 Keystone Cabernet Sangiovese sells for $17 at cellar door. The wine has been finished and is ready to be bottled, so is naturally unreleased at this stage. This wine is a dichotomy of aromas with very sweet fruit combining with off-sweet nuances. Silky, powdery tannins and distinct fruit deliver drying tannins on the uptake; below that is a river of sweet fruit that is contrast to by off-sweet flavours, it finishes dry and with good length. Medium-weight with a supple consistency and diverse complexity, it is very different but it works and should be a good food wine; it will peak in a year or two. Rated as Acceptable with *** for value.
Tatachilla 2003 Shiraz Viognier is the new label from this winery. This vintage has not been co-fermented, but from 2005 it will be. With 7% Viognier, there was no surprise in the lifted apricot bouquet. Smooth tannins and strong fruit provide a supple consistency, solid structure and harmonious complexity for this, love it or hate it style, ample-weight wine. Very sweet on the uptake with good savoury fruit below, from my perspective it would have been better with less Viognier, but the wine will sell. Rated as Acceptable with *** for value.
Tatachilla 2002 McLaren Vale Merlot sells for $24 at cellar door. The bouquet shows char over plummy fruit, mushroom scented coffee essence, and olive characters. The abundant drying tannins, fresh acid and deeply-seated fruit needs time to come together; they are currently in separate layers and the wine seems disjointed. Muscular-weight, with a firm consistency and solid structure, it's not a wimpy wine and if it comes together, it could be good. Blackberry, plum, dark chocolate and musk flavours complete the package. Rated as Acceptable with ** for value; try again in 2009.
Tatachilla 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon is made from McLaren Vale fruit. The bouquet is not your typical, leafy varietal Cabernet; this seems very earthy. With loads of drying tannins over deeply seated fruit, all the components are there but the wine needs time to show its best. It's earthy, oaky, with blackcurrant, and chocolate; there is enough persistent fruit to punch through the very long tannins which show evidence of sappy characteristics. Muscular-weight, with a very firm consistency, the complexity should improve as the wine ages. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, it demands cellaring time.
Tatachilla 2002 Shiraz also hails from McLaren Vale fruit and sells for $24 at cellar door. A big, old-fashioned McLaren Vale Shiraz with chewie, drying tannins and deep fruit that delivers a sweet hit that is counterpunched by a savoury layer of plum and chocolate that kicks in and keeps going and going. A very smart, solid, muscular-weight wine that will cellar well and has a big flavour bang for the buck. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2008 and beyond. My notes say, this is a must buy for the cellar.
Tatachilla 2001 1901 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $40 at cellar door. The bouquet delivers French-oak coffee, blackcurrant and chocolate which is replicated on the palate. A veritable baby, it has been well crafted and shows excellent balance between deep, pure fruit, fresh acid and tight, fine dusty tannins. Ample-weight with a tight structure, it should become harmonious in time; and it demands that time. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as it should enter its drinking window around 2010.
We did not try the 2001 Foundation as I had tasted it recently. There are a number of changes being made at Tatachilla, some cosmetic and some structural. The Keystone range, which have obviously been designed for early drinking are going to Stelvin. The McLaren Vale range will probably also go to Stelvins but there is no current plan to produce the 1901 or Foundation in Stelvins. The labels will also been redesigned right across the range and they look a lot better for it.
I have never been a great fan of straight Merlot but feel it is a wonderful agent for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon. Why Tatachilla persisted with their range of premium (up to $40) varietal Merlot’s, was something that I could never understand but it looks like sanity is prevailing and some of them are being dropped from the line-up. In reality, this is part of a broader strategy to base Tatachilla's wines on McLaren Vale fruit, even though the wines are now made at St Hallett’s in the Barossa.
The 1901 Cabernet will no longer be made. The reason for this is simple; the name of 1901 is associated with the date the original winery was established in the main street of McLaren Vale (behind the current cellar door facility.) However, the winery will still produce a cellar door only, premium Cabernet made from McLaren Vale fruit.
Tatachilla is still making some good wines, but the impression I held when I walked out was not as favourable as it had been on previous visits. Whilst the rationalisation of the range is probably a good thing, I can't help feeling the quality of some of the wines were not quite as good as they were previously.
One final comment. Some of the wines we tried were blended tank samples that were waiting to be bottled, and they opened up a bit stinky. If those wines are sealed under Stelvins in their current condition, they will not be particularly attractive; however if they are cleaned up and receive the correct dose of sulphur, they should be okay.
Lunch time; and based on the atrocious selection made by The Pie Wimp last time we were in McLaren Vale, I took over and demanded we go to the McLaren Vale Continental Delicatessen. At least I know that if we eat here, I can get food that not only tastes good but has a chance of not killing you. His Pieship ordered two Balfours pies with sauce, so he was happy too. Brian decided to be halfway healthy and ordered a ham cheese and tomato sandwich. I said “halfway healthy” advisedly: after consuming his sandwich, on his way out, he ordered a meat pie with sauce. Lordy, lordy, what am I to do? I had a turkey baguette with cranberry sauce, salad and brie that was delicious.
The pies obviously had a serious effect on John's system as he had no sooner consumed them, when out of the blue, for no apparent reason, he came out with another one of his profound gems. “Life is a series of paradoxes wrapped up in an enigma of anachronisms.” Lordy, lordy, what am I going to do?
After lunch, we had some free time and Brian decided he wanted to check out Serafino (which was started by Steve Maglieri after he sold his Maglieri brand to Blass.) As we arrived there, His Pieship received a call from his Piebrat who had chucked a wobbly at school and wanted to be picked up and taken home as she had thrown a “sickie.” John, feigning interest in his offspring, (but in reality because he didn’t want to face Sue’s wrath) abandoned us at Serafino, and drove off in a cloud of flying gravel to pick up Hosanna; (who in moments of affection he calls “The Feral”). No problems as far as we were concerned, we would go and try the wines until he got back to pick us up; or so we thought!
The first problem occurred when we walked into the building and up to the deserted wine tasting counter. The person behind the chocolate stall, across the way, informed us that the wines were not available for tasting on Monday and Tuesday. Boo hiss crap and corruption - as well as other four letter words. So we wandered over to have a look at the chocolate stall. Naturally enough, we couldn't resist one item which should be obviously designed with John in mind. I also decided to buy a slab of their dark chocolate for Lynne. When I opened up my bag, which contains my camera, which was firmly strapped in (after it fell out and was damaged during my WA trip) as well as my micro cassette recorder, the recorder enjoyed a four foot drop to the floor, two bounces and an eight foot slide across ceramic tiles. More four letter words; lots of them! Although the cover holding the cassette in place came off, when I put it back, it worked perfectly; so no real harm done (or so I foolishly thought at the time) and I could buy a new digital one before the next trip.
Along with my camera, the micro cassette recorder has become an integral tool indeed, the most important tool utilised in the raw production of these tour diaries. For example, whenever his Pieworship sprouts forth one of his philosophically wondrous expressions, it is immediately recorded. Likewise, when I'm interviewing winemakers or doing a tour of wineries, the micro cassette recorder is faithfully keeping track of all the details for me. Without it, either much of the detail would be lost or I would be suffering from writers’ cramp.
Once upon a time, Chapel Hill was one of my favourite everyday drinking wines, and in good vintages, I would buy multiple cases of their wines. That was until I ran into an exceptionally bad attitude in regard to the replacement of some corked wine. To make matters worse, at one stage my defective bottle count from this winery was running at about one third (some of the gory details can be found here) so, my recent experiences with this winery, shall we say, have not been exactly positive. As we had some spare time, and at the urging of both Brian and John, despite the fact that I did not a bullet proof vest on , we decided to give Chapel Hill another try. As I have not tried any of their wines for about three years, I didn't know what to expect but I knew that it would be difficult to remain objective so walked in with the attitude of “if in doubt, be kind to overcome any possible bias."
The premises are certainly attractive and the winery has a great atmosphere.
……………………………………… The Original Chapel ………………………………………………………..The Cellar Door Entrance
Chapel Hill 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $25 at cellar door. Not a good start; the bouquet showed black fruits, spice and charry oak. Ample-weight, with smooth tannins, fresh balanced acid and distinct fruit that delivers a sweet uptake, a juicy-fruit mid-palate with milk chocolate; it finishes slightly bitter but has reasonable persistence. An approachable, relatively-easy, soft drinking wine there is nothing wrong with it, but it is not great. Rated as Acceptable with ** for value, I was wondering if I was being harsh in my assessment.
Chapel Hill 2001 Shiraz sells for $28 at cellar door. The nose was dumb and showed little except for a little lifted spice and plum. Chewy tannins, unobtrusive acid and obvious fruit produce a solid wine with an almost hard consistency with plum, spice and chocolate flavours that also finishes a little bitter. Whilst it is slightly better than the Cabernet, it is still not particularly attractive and is "just another wine." Rated as Acceptable with ** for value, drink from 2007 plus.
Chapel Hill 2001 The Vicar sells for $46 at cellar door. The pleasant fruity bouquet showed good complexity. A distinct step up in class from the previous two wines, it has good balance and is well constructed. Multiple berry fruit flavours in the red and blue spectrum deliver all sorts of interesting nuances; the wine finishes with good length and shows some elegance. Ample-weight with a firm consistency, a solid, tight structure and a well-developed complexity the wine is rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value.
Concerned that I had been little hard on the wines, especially the Shiraz and the Cabernet, as soon as we left the winery and I asked for Brian's opinion. His thoughts on the wines were in line with my opinions, particularly the lack of value across the three we tried.
From here, it was time to try a winery where we knew there was an excellent chance we would find both good wines and good value. Kay Brothers Amery Vineyards does not make bad wine, just some wines that are better than others. Normally when I visit in May, it's a good and bad news situation. The bad news is that the Block 6 and Hill Side are not complete and are still in barrel; the good news is that Colin Kay is normally kind enough to take me through the barrel room and lets me try numerous samples from multiple vintages. The bad news was that unfortunately Colin was away sick so this experience had to be skipped on this visit. The bad news did not stop there. The 2003 Block 6 Shiraz is in such a limited supply, that the newsletter is not going out till August; there will be no pre-sales of the wine and it will be restricted to three bottles per head.
There was some good news however, Colin Rayment was his usual generous self and allowed us to try the balance of the unreleased 2003 wines.
Kay Brothers 2003 Shiraz will sell for $22 when it is released in July and is sealed under Stelvin. There is no truth in the rumour that the only reason the winery went to Stelvins is so that they wouldn't have to put up with me giving them a hard time about corked bottles of wine. I understand that Steve Norman is as bad as I am; possibly worse because they have to cop the abuse from him in person rather than via email. The bouquet is intensely floral; it's obviously backed by terrific fruit and shows musket and liquorice. A muscular-weight, tightly-bound wine that is well backed by a fine, chewy tannins and deep, strong fruit that delivers ripe, intense blackberry flavours, liquorice, dark chocolate, mint and a coffee finish. Already harmonious, but it will improve; this is seriously drinkable with a big bang of intense fruit flavour and is rated as Recommended with **** for value; the rating has room for improvement as the wine matures.
………… Nothing new or “flash” about Kay’s!
Kay Brothers 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon was tasted side-by-side with 2003 so I could make a comparison; it sells for $22 at cellar door. The bouquet shows coffee/mocha and floral fragrances with youthful nuances and mint. Deep, obvious fruit produces chocolate, mint, mocha, blackberry, and liquorice and whilst it is not exactly a truly varietal Cabernet, it is a very enjoyable and finishes with attractive, long tannins. Muscular-weight, with a firm consistency, solid structure and well-developed complexity, the wine is more-ish and rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Kay Brothers 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon will be released in July. The bouquet and palate are remarkably consistent with the previous vintage although this wine shows more mint. Ample-weight, this wine is more elegant and approachable than its predecessor.
Kay Brothers 2003 Merlot will be released in July. Not exactly a true varietal Merlot, it has similar flavours to the Cabernet but offers a big bang for the buck, with coffee, musk, plum, blackberry and liquorice. Muscular-weight, but seemingly almost heavy in nature, the wine has a firm consistency, solid structure and an agreeable complexity, and whilst it is not a wimpy wine, I found it to finish hot. Rated as Acceptable with **** for value.
Colin Rayment went on to describe a wonderful expression which he described as “phone palate.” I will leave it to readers’ imagination to work out the nuances of this expression and to what he was referring.
The next winery that Brian wanted to try was Scarpantoni Estate. Located on the edge McLaren Flat, and surrounded by houses that look like they are still expanding into with what was once vines, the real estate on the edge of this winery must be worth an absolute bomb. Over the years, there are some Scarpantoni wines that I have adored, and some that I thought were truly atrocious; the biggest surprise with this differential is that they have been the same label, only different vintages. For example a few of the cuvees of their Black Tempest have been terrific, yet some I thought were truly dreadful. I adored their 96 Block 3, thoroughly enjoyed the 98, but was not particularly enamoured with 2001 or 2002, so where there was no way to know what to expect on this visit.
Scarpantoni Estate 2003 Block 3 Shiraz is sold out at cellar door but we were lucky enough to find a bottle open. The previous vintage sold out very quickly, the 2003 was released and as the quantity was fairly low, it too sold out quickly. The bouquet showed volatile and porty fruit that was dominated by liquorice. A crowd-pleasing wine, with an agreeable complexity; the blackberry and aniseed flavours are backed by smooth supple tannins. This style is not my personal choice but many people will love it. Rated as Acceptable with *** for value. Both Brian and John liked it a little more than I did.
Scarpantoni Estate 2001 Reserve is a Shiraz Cabernet blend and sells for $36 at cellar door. An interesting combination of nuances from both varieties, with equal amounts of both showing through on the bouquet. Blackberry, mint, blackcurrant, chocolate and mocha flavours finish with good length and excellent persistence. Ample-weight with a firm consistency, the solid structure shows some elegance and the well developed complexity is harmonious. A well-balanced wine that has been sensibly put together, the only drawback is that it shows some warmth on the finish. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, this was a highlight of the tasting here.
Scarpantoni Estate Black Tempest sells for $28 at cellar door. A bit simple, and a touch confected, it shows plums, blackcurrant and chocolate. Rated as Acceptable with ** for value, there are far better choices to be made in this category.
Our next appointment was at Olivers Taranga. I first went to this winery last year, and did a complete write up on it in last year's Tour Diary but as a result of that trip, was really looking forward to going back. When I was there last time, they told me about their family cemetery which was located on the other side of the property, but as we ran out of time I did not get to see it. How many wineries do you know that have their own cemetery? Perhaps given the plonk that some wineries produce, it may be a good idea for more of them to put one in.
Don and Margie Oliver are two of the warmest people you would ever wish to meet, and as John had assured me that he'd met Don previously, my reluctance to inflict the Pie King on these two delightful people was reduced; besides, they had read about him and knew what to expect. Maggie had also assured me she would take a Valium/Prozac a couple of hours before the appointment to ensure that she was in the right state of mind to meet John.
Last year, the weather was perfect and we sat in an open covered courtyard enjoying the view. This year, the wind was blowing a gale, and as their house is on top of the hill, it is at the mercy of the elements. Although the windy side had been closed off, unfortunately the weather wasn’t as pleasant, but at least John was reasonably well-behaved as he had consumed two of his favourites at lunchtime.
…. Brian surveying part of the 360 degrees view
Olivers Taranga 2003 Corrina's is a 55% Shiraz and 45% Cabernet blend that will sell for $20 via mail order when it is released in July. Unusually, this wine is actually blended in the vineyard. The bouquet was playing dumb; there was some obvious fruit below, the dusty Cabernet component was poking its head up slightly more than the Shiraz. Well-balanced, with a pleasant (soft) mouth feel, ripe fruit delivers chocolate, char (oak), blackberry, plum and mint; a good combination of flavours with the Cabernet characters lingering. Ample-weight, with a supple consistency, a tight but solid structure, this is a crowd pleasing wine that is better than the previous vintage. Rated as Recommended with **** for value. It's worth buying for immediate consumption.
Olivers Taranga 2003 Shiraz will sell for $22 via mail order when it is released in July. Coffee oak dominates the bouquet, but there appears to be enough black fruit to handle it. Ample-weight, with a supple consistency, solid structure and a well-developed harmonious complexity, this is a nice wine that will get better in the short term. Pure, deep, strong fruit delivers ripe plum, aniseed and dark chocolate flavours that are a good foil for the coffee oak. Easy-drinking, there is a good intensity of fruit shining through and this is an excellent result for the vintage. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, drink from 2006 and beyond.
Oliver's Taranga 2002 HJ Reserve Shiraz will sell for $42 via mail order when it is released in July. Yummy pure, deep fruit delivers dark chocolate, mocha, and plum and is perfectly balanced to the abundant fine-grained dusty tannins and coffee flavoured oak. An ample-weight, well constructed, classy wine and whilst it is already looking good, it demands another five years in a dark place; it shows some elegance, is already harmonious and should become seamless and build complexity as it matures. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve with time and Brian said "it's a pretty smart wine" - I couldn't agree more.
It’s amazing what you see in people’s gardens .
Olivers Taranga 1999 Shiraz is a back vintage and was kindly opened to show us one of their wines at its peak. An excellent mouth feel is provided by the smooth, fine tannins that produce a supple consistency and an ample-weight structure. As an added bonus, the complexity is harmonious and the wine is close to seamless; in fact it just slides down. Coffee and black fruit including aniseed deliver intense flavour that just kicks along. Very enjoyable, it is rated as Recommended.
The winery plans to grow slowly; only 8% of their grape production is going into their own wine and considering they supply grapes for Grange and Eileen Hardy on an extremely regular basis, at least they have access to high-quality fruit, which is always an excellent starting point.
At last, it was time to check out the cemetery and Margie joined us in the Pie Mobile (the Valium really must be working) for a drive through the vineyards to the other side of the property, whilst Don took the point in his four-wheel-drive. Margie gave us a history, a geography, and a short viticulture lesson, all rolled into one as we drove through the vines.
The BBQ on the cemetery block is referred to as the crematorium. The magnificent wooden table started life as the counter in Kay Bros winery. The chairs next to the BBQ have built in stubby beer holders; most considerate but where are the red wine glass holders?
The old cottage will eventually be transformed into the new cellar door. Prior to our entry into the old building, which is now home to numerous pigeons, rodents, and from time to time a snake or two, the dog went in before us to evict the residents. When we followed him in, he was barking furiously at one particular spot and whilst we could see nothing, eventually the racket became too much and the hidden pigeon came out of seclusion and flew off. He is one smart canine.
In the 1860s, when houses like this were built, people tried to be as self-sufficient as possible and that is why virtually all of them had a fig tree, a quince tree, and a mulberry tree. For someone unknown reason, this one has an aloe vera tree as well.
Frankly, I think Don and Margie have got to be mad to attempt this conversion; possibly when they have finished renovating this ramshackle structure, they will agree with me. It is a monumental undertaking that is big enough to bury most people (bad pun intended.) In the end, no doubt it will be worth it and as their families have been farmers and grape growers in this district for generations; they tend to look at the big picture, with a long-term strategy in mind. Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said for some of the wine companies, especially the large corporate players who tend to look as far as the next quarter's results. As I keep saying, the future of wine that has been made for wine lovers, as distinct from wine that is made for supermarket consumption, lies in the hands of people like the Olivers’, and I for one, appreciate their efforts.
That was the end of the formal proceedings and a terrific day of wine tasting. As we headed back to Pie King Bridge Vineyards, it was interesting to reflect back on the days wine tasting and the changing face of the McLaren Vale wineries which is typical of many areas across Australia today. The big are getting bigger and certainly not necessarily better. In fact, many of the large wineries are making wine that whilst very drinkable for the masses, is essentially soulless and even many of their mid-range ($30-$60) wines, which are meant to have a regional identity could almost be from any warm climate region. The intermediate players, and Pirramimma is a perfect example, just keep plugging away year in and year out, doing what they do so well and never fail to please. And then at the micro end, we have the artisans, the craftsmen, the value-for-interest segment, the delusions-of-adequacy players, the “I don't know what I'm doing but will do it anyway” category and the downright revolting segment; there is always something unexpected and exciting to be found in this area. The number of wineries in Australia has now climbed to in excess of 2000 and, unfortunately in five years time a sizeable percentage of them will no longer exist. As with all things in life, especially in a tough market, its case of natural selection and the survival of the fittest; in reality, the market is just too crowded. One tiny producer I recently spoke to, who had no trouble selling his wine last year, submitted a sample for this year's wine to a small local retailer. He was told not to hold his breath as the bottle shop had a stack of samples to taste their way through that they couldn't see over. When tiny retailers are inundated with tasting samples, you can start to get an appreciation for how tough it is out there.
Speaking about tough, it's a tough life for the Pie Queen, she not only has to put up with His Pieship (which after all is part of the job description) but with a couple of his Bigoted mates as well (which is not part of the job description;) so Brian and I decided to take the family to the Victory Hotel for dinner. Glen Green, the undisputed world king of wine options bastardry, and his partner Vasiliki decided to join us. For some inexplicable reason, Glen and Vasiliki were actually on time.
………….. Glen talking a million miles an hour
Despite having communicated with each other for years, Brian and Glen had never met and when they did, it was like watching two old mates together that had seen each other last week.
Glen and Vasiliki spend half their life travelling to the exotic wine regions of the world flogging their very smart little invention. They must be good at it as the Essential Wine Tasting Guide is to be found in a huge number of cellar doors in Australia. From my own perspective, my tasting sheet was modelled from information in this guide.
In terms of food, some of the dishes at the Victory can be a bit hit and miss but I did well on this occasion. For a starter, I chose the salt and pepper prawns which were very good. For a main course I ordered a rare eye of fillet which was cooked to perfection. It came with kipfler potatoes and there were veggies on the side for the whole table. A few people had white bait; I sampled it and it was indeed excellent. For desert, I had a chocolate mud cake with poached pear, and whilst it was adequate, it was nothing to write home about.
Vasiliki eating desert – a picture is worth a 1000 words!
The St Hallet Sparkling Black Shiraz was enjoyable, but not great and certainly not good value. Once again, the dreaded cork took its toll. Glen brought a top bottle of NZ Cabernet Sauvignon (Te Mata Coleraine) that fell victim to it. We then went to Glen's backup bottle which was a Taltarni 2003 Heathcote Shiraz (which I had had reviewed during my trip to the Yarra last year) and it was most enjoyable. What was meant to be my Piece de Resistance, an Orlando 1991 Lawson Shiraz was also horribly corked. With the desert, we had a bottle or Morris Cellar Door Muscat and that never fails to please. Glen also brought a bottle of Langmeil 1986 Fortified Shiraz but unfortunately it was cloudy, volatile and not very pleasant.
Naturally enough, over dinner, the subject of alternative closures came up and as a group, we came to some conclusions. The Stelvins of today are akin to be early adaptation of motor vehicles. A hundred years ago everyone drove horse and buggies, the motor vehicle was a newfangled invention and whilst it was far from perfect, there were certain advantages. Over the intervening period, the motor vehicle is improved out of sight and today has universal acceptance. The cork industry, unless they get their act together, will go the way of a horse and buggy. Whilst many people still make a living from the horse industry today, is not the same industry it was a hundred years ago. Cork will survive, but its usage in wine, unless radical improvements are made, will be limited.
The final bill was just over $300 for seven people, which is exceptionally good value and best of all, you can BYO, even cork-tainted ones.
As is tradition, in the car on the way home, we tend to sing at a fairly high level (noise if not quality), and what I lack in tone, I make up for in volume. Admittedly, I must be the world's worst singer (or so I thought) and normally don't even inflict my voice on the shower; however, after a good night out in the Victory with a glass or five in my system, and amongst true friends I let my hair hang down and sing-along with the family Pie. Brian said that his voice was terrible and he was not going to sing, but when we got to that old Beatles classic, "We All Live in a Yellow Submarine," Brian could not resist and sang along. Well, Brian was right, his voice was terrible, even worse than mine (or Ringo Starr’s); and that's saying something. Nevertheless, we had great fun in the car on the way home, although Hosanna must think her parents and their friends are truly strange.
This was to be our last night in McLaren Vale at the Pie King Bridge Vineyard B & B (without the second B I might point out ) as tomorrow we were heading off to the Barossa Valley. It looks like the rat and mouse bait was working, or possibly it was the wine we drank with dinner, because neither Brian nor I heard any evidence of the rodent activity during the night.
If you think the details on this dinner a brief, you would be right. The next morning, I found that all the notes and funny anecdotes that I had dictated the night before had not been recorded as the micro cassette recorder tape had not been turning. Whilst it was not a huge loss, it was a little disappointing. I jury rig the recorder by holding the tape cover in place with an elastic band and it worked perfectly. No matter, (or was it?) I could always buy a new one at the office supply shop around the corner from Elderton in the Barossa.
To be continued…..