The May 2005 South Australian Tour Diaries
Chapter Five – Wednesday on - The Barossa
Unusually, this chapter starts at lunchtime as by doing so, the two Barossa Chapters will be about the same length, or so I had hoped. However as it turned out, there was so much great material to share with you; this is the largest chapter ever! Twenty six A4 pages without photos; to help speed up loading, it will be broken into three documents.
After a fantastic trip to Rockford’s, our next stop was lunch. As we drove up the main street of Tanunda, unfortunately “Coke Bottle Glasses John” was driving without the aid of a Seeing Eye dog, and decided to whiz straight past my favourite lunch spot in Tanunda. It serves both healthy sandwiches and Villis pies so this place normally keeps the Pie King happy and allows me to have a halfway reasonable meal. Our next couple of tastings were up near Angaston, so we decided to take pot luck and have lunch there.
During my February tour, I took photographs of the Angaston Bakery from the outside. I thought that John would be in Pie King Heaven here, in what to me, from the outside looked like the most disgustingly unhealthy bakeries I have ever seen. Naturally, when John saw the building, he was salivating and decided that was where we should eat lunch. Needless to say, I was not impressed but walked in hoping I could get a sandwich. It took me about half a nanosecond to say “I'll see you back at the car” as I walked out. I headed up the road to the delicatessen/sandwich shop known as Angaston Gourmet Foods. Although not very “gourmet like,” when I had breakfast here in February, they made a credible cup of coffee, and at least, it didn't look like you would die of food poisoning by breathing the air.
As I was standing in the queue waiting to be served, guess who walked in? It appears that the Angaston bakery has set a new low in the standard of pie shops, not even the Pie King would eat there! The lunch at Angaston Gourmet Food, although simple (but wholesome,) turned out to be very good. The bread appeared to be home-made on the premises and the staff could not do enough for you. Complimentary jugs of cold rain water are even offered with the simple, inexpensive fare. Brian picked up his glass of rain water, sniffed it and pronounced "vintage 2004 I think." I had a baguette, and whilst the bread was extremely heavy, it's the sort I like; and with turkey, avocado, tomato and cucumber, it was filling and delicious. The Pie King had a pie and a sausage roll, whilst the Pie Prince seemed satisfied with his pie.
From there, it was a quick drive back down the hill to Saltram Winery, and although I had been there in February, there are a couple of new releases I was keen to try, specifically the Mamre Brook 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
Saltram 2003 Mamre Brook Shiraz sells for $24 at cellar door but can be found is for substantially less on the street. The bouquet shows ripe, spicy fruit driving the wine with oak in support. Powdery tannins, fresh acid and distinct fruit form and ample-weight wine that is a firm, solid and has an agreeable complexity. Abundant, very-ripe black berry, black pepper, and mint fruit flavours linger well; the ripe fruit is the dominant feature of the palate but it is well supported by almost unobtrusive tannins. A good result for the vintage and a worthy successor to the 2002, the wine is rated as Recommended with **** for value (based on the street price) and it should peak around 2008.
Saltram 2003 Mamre Brook Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $24 at cellar door but can be found is for substantially less on the street. Brian took less time to try the wines because he was not making tasting notes, so he got to the Cabernet before I did. His face was not a pretty site when the Cabernet was in his mouth. I took one sniff and thought it was mildly corked. Another bottle was opened and it was pronounced fit by our cellar door attendant. Brian tried it and thought it was ok but….. As soon as I took the first sniff I noticed an unusual scent that seemed like it should not be there. After swirling it round for a minute or two, it started to come up and the offending aroma smelt like rubber; not burnt rubber, just rubber like on a new car tyre.
Brian found the same offending taste on the palate and agreed with my findings, as did the cellar door staff member who decided to open yet another bottle. This one had the same rubbery characteristic and whilst it was not as pronounced, it was definitely detectable. After this bottle, we gave up. Unfortunately the Cellar Door Manager was not there at the time so we could not discuss it with him.
In an endeavour to be scrupulous fair, as soon as I got home I purchased a bottle for $23.99 at my local BWS store to see how it looked. Here is the TN.
The bouquet is brooding but shows rich fruit with coffee influenced oak and a tinge of rubber character. The wine is has very firm tannins and like good cabernets that are meant to last, there are plenty of them; the structure is solid and there is enough fruit to balance this full-bodied wine. The wine is very pleasant on the uptake with quality fresh fruit is that is completely marred by the rubbery finish which leaves a decidedly unpleasant taste on the palate.
I didn’t know what has caused this problem but had a couple of ideas, so I then sent a double-blind sample to a Master of Wine that I am acquainted with, and asked for his opinion. He emailed this response “Just tried your sample……YUK!! Full of Brettanomyces -- I think--metallic /mousey notes………. Certainly does not seem to be a sound or stable sample. Suspect hygiene or low SO2 issues.” Based on the tasting notes I have subsequently seen, Brett would be a perfect reason for the disparity in opinion. I have since had contact with the winery, and according to the wine maker, the wine it is sound but if you are contemplating buying any quantity, I recommend you taste it first; its possible you may like it but in my opinion, this wine does not do anything positive for Saltram's reputation!
To be honest, this wine literally left a nasty taste in our mouths so we decided to have a cleansing cup of coffee at Salters which makes one of the best cups of coffee in the area. As usual, I set my camera bag down next to my feet whilst enjoying the coffee. (My camera bag also contains my tape recorder, my recorded trip tapes, credit cards and other bits and pieces.) Feeling refreshed after the coffee, we piled into the Council owned Pie Mobile and headed up towards Eden Valley to visit Hobbs of the Barossa.
Greg's place is located high in the Eden Valley a few kilometres past Yalumba, on a road that is not exactly on the way to anywhere and although we had directions I wanted to make sure we were on the right track, so I dug into my bag……oops it was not there! Bloody hell, if I've lost that bag I am in deep ; deeper trouble than Ned Kelly or Jessie James! Without that case, I suddenly felt as exposed as Bilious Clinton would have been if he was caught with an intern with his pants down. Not a comfortable feeling. To make matters worse, there was no mobile reception up here. When we got to Greg Hobbs's place, whilst the others were getting to know each other, I borrowed a phone and got straight on to Saltram’s. Phew! The case was exactly where I left it, tucked away on the floor. The restaurant manager kindly agreed put it away until we got back there; so although I felt a little sick in the stomach, and it had nothing to do with the 2003 Mamre Brooke Cabernet Sauvignon, I certainly felt better than I did five minutes previously. The only downside was that unfortunately I did not have my cassette recorder to take notes of what was an excellent visit. As a result, I had to rely on the old-fashioned pen and paper method, and in the process was unable to capture all the subtle nuances and excitement of this place.
A few months ago, I wrote the first part of a featured winery review called And I Thought Hobbs Was About Stoves which detailed the stunningly good dessert wines from this producer as well as a little about their operation. The story ended with the tag line "to be continued...." and there was a very good reason why the story was to split into two. In time, this micro-producer will become better known for their top-shelf reds which were not reviewed in the first story. The reason for the split in the story and the omission in of the two red tasting notes was simple. When I opened the two reds there was something unusual; both corks looked like wine barrels and were leaking slightly although the wine seemed fine; no signs of TCA or oxidation. Prior to posting the story, Gregg read my tasting notes and resulting conclusions and he thought there must have been something wrong with both of the reds. He suggested I retaste those wines and if I found them to be the same, by all means post the original story but if they were different than it would obviously need to be altered.
Whilst the original two reds seemed fine, indeed sound wines that were enjoyable, but they were not worth anything like the $100+ asking price. That wasn't just my opinion. I knew that my good mate Brian was going to stop in on his way back home to Canberra, so I decanted a couple of extra glasses of the reds for him so I could get his opinion. When Brian tried the first wine (double-blind) he rated it as Recommended and thought it was a reasonable $30 bottle. When Brian tried the second wine, once again he had no idea what he tasted or how much it cost, and he said, "It has good structure and oak handling, but there is a green flavour with a sour edge which I think may come from slightly green tannins." Brian thought it was a good $35-$40 wine.
Due to the cost of the wines and extremely limited availability, I arranged to meet Greg Hobbs at his home in the Eden Valley to retry the wines. Greg was right; the second tasting was very different to the first. The original bottles were mailed in a styrofoam pack in January and in hindsight it seems the bottles were cooked. Since then, the winery refuses to ship wines using this method during hot months - smart move!
His property is located right next door to Chris Ringland’s Three Rivers property. Two and a half acres of Greg’s vines were planted over a hundred years ago and the resulting yield from all those vines is a measly 3 tonnes in a good year. Prior to tasting the wines, we piled into Greg Land Rover for a tour through the ancient vineyard. When Greg purchased the estate, there were 70-year-old Pedro Ximenes vines that were fetching a whopping $200 a tonne so these were ripped out and change to Shiraz. The Semillon, which was as valuable as airbrakes on a turtle were changed over to "that weed" Viognier, but these guys make a very respectable desert wine from most of it! During the vine pull scheme, well before Greg brought the property, acres of hundred-year-old vines were pulled. That area is now being replanted with root stock from the small area of remaining old vine material.
The property is fairly steep with a conglomeration of higgledy-piggledy old, mature and young vines. As we drove through it, there were rolled up bales of nets all over the place; something you don't normally see on the Barossa floor. In this area and on this property in particular, birds decimating the fruit is a real problem and although the cost of netting is horrifically expensive, the very low yields and value of the crop makes it mandatory. When you drive through most vineyards at this time of the year, the vines look reasonably dense and still have a fair amount of foliage. The general impression in most vineyards is one of density, but not this one. For some reason, it seems sparse in comparison to others and that low density or sparseness may be why the fruit is so good.
According to Greg, as he came from the city, he doesn't know what to do, so he just wanders around the property (and the borrowed winery space at Trevor Jones?) and does exactly what Chris Ringland tells him to do.
I must admit that when Greg told me the cost of his flagship wine was $130, I was somewhat taken aback. There are very few wines with no track record that could possibly justify anything like this price. However in its favour, the fruit was previously used in Run Rig and that is substantially more expensive, but it takes more than just great grapes to produce a wine that is worthy of this price tag; so let's see how they stacked up second time round. We sat outside the house in the warmth of the late autumn sun enjoying the peace and tranquillity, seemingly a million miles from anywhere yet we were only a few kilometres out of the Barossa as the crow flies. A plate of cheese and bickies were also laid on, an addition that is always appreciated. The bickies help to refresh the palate and the cheese offers another perspective as far as food matching is concerned.
Greg’s wines were even ………
better than my local stuff! ……..
Hobbs 2002 Gregor Shiraz has a list price of from cellar door of $111 and only 73 dozen bottles have been made. The wine was made in an Amarone style and matured in French oak. It had been decanted for a couple of hours prior to tasting. The lifted fruit exuded sublime purity and oozed pepper resulting in a sensual bouquet. This is classy winemaking; perfect construction and a sensational balance between top quality, cool-climate fruit, ultra-fine, tightly-grained tannins and unobtrusive acid. A savoury top layer of black pepper, white pepper, aniseed, rich chocolate and mint flavours flow over a sweet river of fruit that finishes with extraordinary length and persistence. An elegant, layered wine with a supple consistency of just ample-weight, it is sophisticated and already harmonious. A wine of exceptional quality, it is rated as Excellent with ** for value and the rating should improve as it reaches maturity in 2010 and beyond. At that time you will be glad you bought it! I could have cried when I had to spit it.
Hobbs 2002 Shiraz has a list price of from cellar door of a $130 and only about 66 dozen have been made. After sniffing this wine, I can understand how people get addicted to sniffing glue and petrol because the bouquet on this wine was certainly addictive with its coffee, milk chocolate, mocha and blackberry aromas; I just wanted to keep sniffing it all day. The palate is a shut shop -- closed tightly; but it’s a bloody serious wine! Pure, deep fruit combined with ultra-fine, dusty tannins to deliver cherry, milk chocolate, pepper, subtle blackberries, a touch of charred spice; it is rich but not overripe and finishes long, dry and persistent. Weighing in at 13.3% alcohol, it is medium-weight with a refined complexity that is already harmonious; this is a classically constructed, tightly-knit, complete wine. It is more traditional than the Gregor and is rated as Excellent with ** for value but that rating is bound to improve the wine eventually matures.
The 2001 Hobbs Shiraz received a high rating (96) from Parker, and originally I felt the one high rating combined with a very limited production had been used to justify the prices on both the Shiraz labels. Whilst to some extent that is still the case, there is no doubting the quality of the wine and I would much prefer to purchase these than pay a $160 a bottle on the secondary market for a good vintage of the Noon's Shiraz, which many people do.
Hobbs is a new winery, does not have a track record, does not have a reputation but watch out, if they keep making wines like this, it's only a matter of time before they are highly sought after.
You also have to admire how the Gregor wine was named. Some years ago Greg (Gregory to those that want to be formal) was having skiing lessons from a European. The instructors English pronunciation wasn't great and he was the "formal" type. All through the lesson, much to the amusement of Greg's wife, the instructor kept yelling "Lean over Gregor, Gregor you need to lean over." Its not often someone is prepared to name a wine in a manner that "takes the pi$$ out of themselves." But then that is typical of Greg's attitude towards life and dry sense of humour.
As we were leaving and John got up and complained about his jeans being to tight after all the good food he had been eating. Greg responded "That's what good living is all about; being able to afford a wardrobe full of the next size of clothing." What a great way to spend an hour!
Needless to say, although it was in the opposite direction from where we wanted to go, our next stop was back at Saltram where I retrieved my camera case and breathed a huge sigh of relief. After Hobbs, my original plan was to head down the back way to Tanunda which would have given us just about enough time to visit Leibich Wines. Bloody hell, the detour cut out most of the spare time we had available and we didn't have enough time to visit Leibich. Will I ever get there? Brian decided that instead, he wanted to do a flying visit to Glaetzer to try their latest releases. Glaetzer were working on their driveway so we had to use the tradesman’s entrance and drive in the back way past the winery. Holy cow! This place is bloody huge; it’s a big operation, much bigger than the label suggests; a medium sized tank farm with far too many to count as we drove past. Brian said they do a load of contract processing; this must be the Barossa equivalent of the McLaren Vale “Boring Rock” facility. As we walked up the stairs we noticed a staffer packaging wine on the ground floor but when we got to the counter we were informed they were sold out of their 02 reds. Boo hiss! According to our server (or non-server in this case,) the wine had sold very quickly due to a very limited production in 2002 with most going to mailing list customers. Brian made a few phone calls after we left and manage to track down some at retail which he bought on trust.
Our next appointment was at the southern end of the Barossa in Williamstown. I first visited Winter Creek about four years ago and was impressed with the wines. Although they had fruit doing the talking, they were well structured, retained some elegance and been built to age. The only problem at that time was that all of it was exported; that did not make me happy as I wanted to buy some. No way! The eccentric David Cross did not have a license to sell the wine locally. Thankfully, that situation has changed (the availability of the wine, not the eccentricity ) and I have three vintages of their wine in my cellar. David and Pam’s property is on the edge of the residential area of Williamstown; it is a small operation and they only make two wines, a Shiraz and a Grenache/Shiraz blend; all from their own estate grown fruit.
………….. David’s “Other” Pride and Joy and they go faster in red too!
On past visits, trying to keep out in the vineyards was always a loosing battle. Saying David is passionate about his vines is like saying John has a passing interest in pies, but as I have been there a few times now, even David is finally running out of things to tell me about his vines. On this trip I was looking forward to a “vine free” visit but as soon as we got out of the Pie Mobile, his Pie Ship immediately shanghaied David into the vineyard to talk about things viticultural. Bloody hell! David doesn't need a second invitation to wax lyrical about his vines and I knew getting the two of the out for the vineyard was not going to be easy, and then I spotted the perfect solution. It turns out David is even more passionate about his MG than his vines, and who can blame him; he certainly has his priorities right. As we walked into the garden, we were greeted by his manic (tautology) Jack Russell cross Miniature Foxy. That dog is more active than a fermenting vat of over-ripe, old-vine Zinfandel, but he is kind of cute and a very entertaining when he does his greyhound impersonation trick; running a circular route round and round the garden.
When we walked into the house, I thought John's eyes were going to pop out of his head when he saw what was on the table. No, it wasn't a meat pie; it was a cheese plate feast that was fit for a (Meat Pie) King. As this was our last call for the day, and our palates were becoming fatigued, a refreshing plate like this works wonders on the body, mind and soul. Initially, I just got stuck into the plain crackers and the bread because they don't mess with your palate, but after I had made most of my tasting notes, the cheese came into play and it was interesting seeing the effect that cheese had on the wine, and vice versa.
David was kind enough to open up the number of vintages side by side which enabled us to compare and contrast the wines. Whilst I did not make notes on all of them, after trying the wines that I had previously tasted, I checked back to my original tasting notes. The wines are developing beautifully and as expected, with no deviations or nasty surprises. Besides the fact the wines were true to form in every respect, each label was remarkably consistent from vintage to vintage. Same grapes, same oak, same methods, same winemaking; which makes about the only variable factor, the weather. It's great to be able to buy a wine that is so consistent you can just about tell what it is going to taste like before you pull the cork.
Winter Creek 2004 Old Barossa Blend will sell for $25 when it is released in August. Like many youthful wines that have been sealed in Stelvins, the bouquet was closed down but you could still tell that the fruit was dominant. With enough smooth, unobtrusive tannins to well and truly hold the wine together, this medium-weight wine has a firm consistency, a tight structure and a harmonious, agreeable complexity that will only get better with time. With perfect balance, the glorious fruit is offset by fresh acid and further complemented by the mouth feel. Dark red cherry, dark chocolate, with a touch of spice and pepper, there is nothing sweet about this Shiraz Grenache blend that has an attractive, almost bitter almond finish. An excellent food wine with class and refinement why buy a big-name for $30+ when you can get one like this; rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, it'll peak around 2008 and beyond. This is another wine that will wind up in my cellar.
According to my previous tasting note on the 2002 Barossa Blend; the wine showed raspberry, liquorice, aniseed and chocolate, in a combination of sweet and savoury flavours. At this tasting, whilst there was still some sweetness, the wine is now dominated by intensely savoury flavours including pepper, and forest floor flavours as well. The wine is holding up extremely well, and according to John; “it sits really well in the mouth,” and it has fantastic length as well; the rating has improved from Recommended to Highly Recommended.
The 2001 Barossa Blend was also read tasted and the wine is still consistent with my last tasting note; only now the multiple berry flavours could best be described as brambly. Tannins are now in the powdery spectrum and the wine is obviously in the middle of a big sleep and should not be disturbed for another few years.
Winter Creek 2003 Shiraz sells for about $30-$32. The freshly opened bottle exhibited a touch of bottle stink but there was good fruit lurking below. The wine has damn good construction and balance, with smooth, ultra-fine natural tannins, no sign of oak; the sumptuous fruit is doing all the talking. Brooding chocolate, pepper and red plum flavours had excellent length and persistence and had no problems in cutting through strong cheese flavours that accompanied the wine. Medium-weight the structure shows elegance; the wine is already harmonious and should gain further complexity with time. A very smart wine, in fact one of the best 2003 I have tasted at this price point. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, it should peak around 2010. I have mine in the cellar already!
Great Hospitality from David Cross ………………….
Winter Creek 2004 Shiraz is about 12 months away from release. The youthful fruity bouquet shows a touch of coffee (which is derived from the fruit, not the oak) and a hint of camphor. Ultra-fine, unobtrusive, smooth tannins, fresh acid and pure, deeply-seated fruit are perfectly balanced and provide a firm, solid, tight construction. With terrific brambly fruit, coffee and a sweet underlying layer of cherry; it finishes with very long tannins. Ample-weight, it is already harmonious and will only get better with time. With enough flavour to cut through some strong cheese this “dead sexy” wine has fantastic power for its weight. Rated as Highly Recommended with ***** for value, the rating may improve as the wine matures; this is the best wine to be produced under the Winter Creek label and one of the 850 cases will definitely wind up in my cellar. Brian commented, "a structure to die for.”
After this stunning wine, David decided to try and poison us, or if not poison, at least slam our palates into submission with his Winter Creek 2004 Fortified Shiraz. At this stage of its life, it's big, broody and rough, just like a biker’s moll; and would be the perfect accompaniment for a night in the honeymoon suite at the Tanunda pub. It could also be described as an Aunty Jack Wine it will “rip you bloody arms off." Showing liquorice, black fruits, loads of brandy and a long drying finish, I don't know what to make of it, but it needs years in a deep hole. According to David, he purchases the dirtiest spirit he can get his hands-on, because it gives the wine character. No doubt, it'll be interesting to try this wine again when I am old and the Pie King is completely bald (that's not a pretty thought;) hopefully by then it will not have "quite as much character" and will not be quite as lethal. I have it on reliable authority that there is no truth in the rumour that NASA knocked back the spirit because it was too powerful for the space shuttle; it was actually only knocked back because it was too dirty.
It was interesting to try a number of vintages of each wine side-by-side because it shows the consistency within each label; something that is becoming increasingly more difficult to find in the Australian wine industry today. This is certainly a small producer that is worth supporting; he is making some excellent wines at very reasonable prices and deserves all the success he is unlikely to reap. The reason for that is simple; these wines are certainly not in your face, big Barossa brutes; nor are they flash; they are certainly not over-ripe, nor do they show any under-ripe characters. They are conservative, finally balanced, well-made, very drinkable wines that are worthy of cellar space. But then, I doubt the David and Pam Cross are looking for fame and fortune; David is happy making wine that he enjoys drinking (and so am I.)
Whilst I was typing this chapter, I received am email from David; it seems he is a bloody pie con-o-sewer too! Being a serious sort of bloke, his sense of humour is dry and precise so the resulting comments are no surprise.
Over a number of years I have developed Crosses Law of Pie ShopsTM. This has proved to be as fundamental as Newton’s Laws of Motion. The Law has four parts. The initial part of the Law was developed first and has been added to over time so it is now complete.
(Torb’s note: - wann’a bet David? I am willing to wager that the two Pie reprobates, as well as other pie loving readers, will come up with a whole lot more Pie Shop laws to add to these four.)
The Law reads -
Whenever you go into a pie shop to purchase a pie -
a. They will not have whatever pie you ask for.
b. If two people go into a pie shop together and ask for the same pie they will only have one of them.
c. They will have the pie you ask for but it will not be hot.
d. They will have the pie you ask for, it will not be hot but they will sell it to you anyway.
Usually at least one of the sections of the law will apply. I was with Pam and two other friends at a pie shop in Hahndorf recently and each section of the law applied. Test the law yourself. If you have any additions to this law, please e-mail me and I will pass them along to David. If we get enough of them, I will post them on their own "funnies” page.
Unfortunately David did not try and bribe me by offering to let me drive his MG and it would have been too late at this stage as my tasting notes had already been written; so that was the end of the day's formal proceedings. There was just enough time to get back to our various lodgings and to briefly relax before going out for dinner. John and Brian had decided to have "a cleansing ale” before dinner in Brian's room. Just so that no one could accuse me of being totally antisocial, without an invite, I dropped in unannounced and proceeded to steal half the only bottle of Grolich beer. For the amber stuff, it was actually quite drinkable, and next year, I and contemplating making it my standard beer, which means that I may even drink a whole bottle of it.
Our taxi was on time and we arrived at Bar Vinum to find a place almost empty. Not long after we had been seated, my shoe phone rang and Rick Burge advised that he was running a little late; now gees, there's a surprise! Originally we were meant to be having dinner with Rolf and Linda Binder as well; but Rolf heard I was coming to town, and like Allister Ashmead from Elderton, decided he needed to be in the US. What some people will do to avoid seeing me; I'm beginning to get a complex, and to make matters worse when Rick finally arrived, he advised as his wife who was also meant to be joining us, had left town too! And I did have a shower this morning.
One thing about having dinner with Rick, you know you'll never go thirsty. Most people will walk in with a bottle or possibly two, Rick walked in with an esky and it was just about full! Rick had brought more bottles than the other three of us brought between us, so it was looking like it was going to be a good night. We kicked off proceedings with a bottle of Pol Roger 1996 Pink Bubbles that had a stunning colour, even if it was almost c-through. The bouquet was dry, yeasty and bread like with abundant apple characters; it was not and dry as steely as the normal vintage equivalent and had a little sweetness. With a touch of strawberry character, it held more weight than many other champagnes, and whilst it didn't dance, it certainly was lovely and a wine that I would be happy to drink at any time.
…………….. Picture Postcard View Across The Road
The Rockford 1991 Basket Press Shiraz that had been opened and decanted eight hours previously had come up beautifully; it had developed loads of rich chocolate blackcurrant characters. Although it was soft on the mid-palate, it finished dry with fantastic length tannins and excellent complexity; it certainly had wow factor.
For a starter, I had gnocchi and instead of it being boiled, it had been fried which was an interesting way of preparing it. It was covered in fresh fig, blue cheese and roasted hazelnuts that provided both a wonderful flavour combination and interesting textures. The only criticism; the serving size was minute.
Rick then produced two masked bottles of wine, both Sangiovese, one from Italy and one from Australia. Our challenge was to pick which was which; as the results were embarrassing for certain members of our group I won't tell you got it wrong but there were comments made like “even the Einstein’s aren’t Einstein’s.” The first wine, to me, appeared to be more of the show pony wine; with bigger, richer and ripe fruit but that does not necessarily mean it is better. The second wine appeared to have better structure and a more balanced taste. The first wine was the Italian; it was a Mezzopane 2001 and imported by Lester Jesberg (Winewise magazine) and was a very enjoyable drop. The second wine was a Castaga 2002 La Chiave which I found to be more elegant and structured than the Mezzopane which in itself is interesting; one would tend to think the country that had significantly more experience with Sangiovese would have produced the wine with the better structure. On the other side of the coin, the Mezzopane had much brighter fruit. Rick summed it up beautifully when he said the Castaga was cautious and the Mezzopane was bold. The Australian wine was technically perfect, but the Italian wine was a more enjoyable at this stage. The “Italian pretender” was $30 and much better value.
One of the subjects we discussed over dinner was the "quaint winery syndrome." These wineries are set up to look as though they are small, quaint, sometimes antiquated or rustic, and frequently having an emphasis on “handmade” in their approach to winemaking. In many cases, it is good marketing ploy. Whilst the public may get to see the "quaint" side of the operation, they normally don't get to see the real "manufacturing" aspects of the business. In some cases, a small, quaint cellar door operation may hide the fact the wine is made at a huge, (boring) contract winemaking facility. In others, the manufacturing facility is carefully hidden away from the cellar door. The old Edwards and Chaffey cellar door that showcases the Rosemount wines, is a classic example of the two parts of the operation being separated by many kilometres. The actual Rosemount winemaking facility is a huge industrial plant, although the cellar door is old and cute. Likewise, as much as I like Rockford, and have been through a tour of the winery, I can't help wondering if there is a more modern section that is hidden from public view.
Rick Burge ………………
For a main course, three of us had the duck, which was seriously good. It was a combination of twice cooked duck, some rare duck breast, a wonderful potato mash and lentils; very tasty indeed. With the duck, we had a Zenato 2000 Amarone, also kindly brought by Rick and it was superb; it certainly made the palate sit up and take notice. Brian thought it smelt like sweaty socks or a good port salute. Sensational fruit that was well backed by ultra-fine tannins; the 15.5% alcohol hardly showed; with abundant black current, chocolate and coffee, the wine lingered for ages. The comments around the table ranged from “sexy” to “I want to bath in it” but then that would be the first tub that John has had for a while.
The one letdown of the meal was the cheese plate for two ($18) but was plain “ordinary”. It wasn't exactly a generous serving either; there were three different types of cheese but none of them were particularly exciting. Served with lavrosh (and no normal bread or other biscuits) and a couple of raisins, that was it.
Overall, the size of all our entrees was small bordering on ridiculous; the main courses were below average in terms of size (almost adequate,) but the quality of the food (with the exception of the cheese) was certainly worthwhile. The service was professional without being overly attentive. For example, the wines were decanted and checked even though we brought our own which was a nice touch.
Over dinner, there was much conversation about Rick’s annual trips back to North Eastern Victoria where he did his early winemaking. Although he now lives in the Barossa, where he was born and brought up, a large chunk of his heart is deeply rooted in Victoria. Rick regaled us with many stories about some rather alcoholic evenings spent with some of the most respected winemakers in that area. Clearly, Rick has a very broad palate spectrum of tastes and a serious addiction to the finest of French and Italian wines as well.
As we were all headed in the same general direction, we piled into a taxi and headed off into the moonlight. Today could best be described as “complete.” A great day of tasting, and a great dinner amongst friends, what more could anyone want? A good night's sleep; because tomorrow is another big day with appointments set and heaps of good wine to taste. Even the Pike King and his Apprentice passed on the opportunity to have a cleansing ale.
Thursday - The Barossa continued
Today was our last full day of tasting on this trip and I was looking forward to it as much as the first. Although I woke up with a sore throat, that was worse than yesterday, at least my nose was still 100% clear and otherwise I felt okay. Once again, I had made a nine o'clock appointment so we didn't have to waste half the day for the rest of the winemaking fraternity to get out the bed. As our appointment was at the north western end of the Barossa, instead of having breakfast is a usual spot in Tanunda, I had a brainwave and we decided to venture out and have breakfast in Nuriootpa. When we drove through the town, there was not a huge amount of choice (understatement) but Linke's Bakery & Tearoom was open.
When we walked in, I knew I was going to be in big trouble. This place may have been pie heaven, but there was not one thing on the menu that held any appeal for me. You couldn't even get the old standby of a toasted bacon and egg sandwich in this place. Going wine tasting on a completely empty stomach is not advisable for a number of reasons, so I had to have something; the question was "what was the least evil thing here?" Brian wound up having a beef, bacon and cheese pie and John ordered, and here is a surprise ….. no pie: a ham and cheese croissant.
No way known to mankind, could I face a meat pie for breakfast, and the greasy ham and cheese croissant didn't look particularly appetising either, so I went for a Danish, black coffee and tomato juice; a reasonably safe choice, or so I thought. The coffee was lukewarm! My Danish, which was called an Apple Scroll, resembled the taste of white bread, with icing sugar on top; it was tasteless, light is a feather and not worth eating, so I didn't. At least the tomato juice was good.
Brian thought his pie was "edible but not interesting” and John thoroughly enjoyed his cholesterol fix, which dear readers, will come as no surprise to you. Needless to say, this will be our first and last visit here and the boys have told me that next time I have a bright idea about breakfast; I am to keep it to myself.
Our first appointment was with Troy Kalleske of Kalleske Wines. Troy came out of nowhere and shot to prominence less than two years ago with his 2002 vintage wines. Last year, when we visited him, it was in a shed (behind his cousins house) that was absolutely chock-a-block full and there was not enough room in it for a mouse to be able to break wind. Troy had given me directions to his new winery location which was only a couple of minutes up the road and we had arranged to meet there. Unfortunately something got lost in the translation of the directions, as although I thought I had written them down scrupulously, the driveway we finally drove down was definitely not Troy's place. We figured that out, when a fellow came out from his shed, looking like he was a reject, bit player, from the movie Deliverance and started jabbering at us in unintelligible gobbledygook. The council owned Pie Mobile broke the land speed record in reverse gear, taking off in a cloud of dust and covering our unsuspecting redneck in sand and grit. That experience was almost as dangerous as breakfast.
After driving around for about 10 minutes, checking out all the possible sites and variations in possible directions, we found a spot where I had mobile reception and rang Troy. Within less than five minutes, we met outside his cousins’ place, where we had met the previous year.
As we walked into the shed, the transformation was awesome. Instead of being tightly packed, it was almost bare. All winemaking equipment and most of the barrels have been moved to the new location. It seemed quite strange to be tasting in a shed with so much room.
We also tried the Stonewell Wines range, which is made by Troy on behalf of his cousin.
Stonewell 2004 Red Nectar Shiraz sells for $25. The wine was matured for one year in 25% new American oak and the fruit came from the same vineyard as the previous vintage. Well-structured, the wine sits beautifully in the mouth and whilst it is fruit-driven, there are enough smooth, drying tannins to ensure the wine holds and improves in the short term. Muscular-weight, with a supple consistency; this well-developed wine delivers savoury, spicy fruit, plum and very dark chocolate that has a long, slightly-bitter, attractive finish. A solid, credible wine that is rated as Recommended with **** for value, it can be drunk any time over the next five years; this was a great way to start the day's wine tasting.
Stonewell 2004 Red Nectar Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $25. Matured in 25% new French oak, the bouquet shows dusty notes over beautiful black fruits, with sweet vanillin French oak characters. The mouth feel is sensational; a varietally correct Cabernet that is drinking well already but will improve. A muscular-weight wine showing berry fruit, milk chocolate and minor tobacco notes; the consistency is a firm but supple, the structure tight and the complexity harmonious. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the wine should peak around 2009 and is definitely worth buying. If all the 2004's are this good, there is a lot to look forward to.
Kalleske 2004 Clarry Barossa Red sells for around the $18-$20 mark. An 80% Grenache and 20% Shiraz, it spent 10 months in older oak and is named after Troy’s grandfather, who is 87 and has tended the family vines for about 60 years. (There is no truth in the rumour that when Clarry eventually dies, the name of the wine will be changed to Troy’s Sh*t Hot Red.) Cropped at two and a half tons to the acre, the blend holds a brooding nose with good chocolate characters. With enough very-fine, unobtrusive tannins to hold the wine together, this is an ample-weight wine with a solid structure, agreeable complexity and soft consistency. With loads of rich, dark chocolate, and a slight sappiness to the profile, it's not at all wishy-washy and lingers well. A very drinkable wine, with lots of Shiraz infulence, it is rated as Recommended with **** for value and ready to go now.
My favourite in this line up so far was the Cabernet.
Kalleske 2003 Greenock Shiraz sells for around $35, but the chances are it has sold out by now; it literally flew off the shelves as soon as it was released; and for good reason. Cropped at 1 1/4 tonnes to the acre from six your old vines, the bouquet showed camphor on opening with brooding fruit and coffee. Pure, deeply-seated fruit “explodes across the palate” (Brian's comment) with plum, dark chocolate, blackberry, coffee, and aniseed finishing with good length. Muscular-weight, it's solid, supple and well-developed and although it's lovely now, it will improve beautifully once the tannins have integrated. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, it should peak around 2010 and beyond. Only 1000 cases have been made that production will increase in future years.
Kalleske 2003 Old Vine Grenache sold for $45 when it was released and the mere hundred cases were snapped up instantaneously; even I missed out and I was not impressed! Cropped from vines that were planted in 1935, the wine spent almost 2 years in barrel. A serious nose, it was broody but showed first-class fruit and the palate was just as serious. With incredible fruit purity and persistence, there was nothing sweeter at all; the sweet blackcurrant instantaneously turned savoury and spicy with chocolate, blackberry, liquorice and coffee that finishes with astonishing length. Full-bodied, the complexity is harmonious, sophisticated and will develop further. This was one wine and I did not want to spit and one of the best straight Australian Grenache’s I have ever experienced. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating may improve as the wine matures around 2009.
Kalleske 2003 Johann Georg Shiraz sold for $100 when it was released, but like the Grenache, it was all sold within days of release too. Made from dry grown vines planted in 1875 the wine spent two years in a combination of new French and some older American oak. According to Troy, this vineyard had been contract to Penfolds for about a hundred years. A deeply complex, attention-grabbing bouquet, drinking this wine at this time was the worst possible case of vininfanticide. No matter how you describe this wine, “damn fine” as Brian said, or “a complete wine” as John expressed it, the superlatives are immaterial. The finest fruit imaginable exudes coffee, 70% Lindt chocolate, black fruits and a bitter almond finish that is longer than a country mile. An impressively full-bodied, stylish wine; it is tight, solid, harmonious already and should become seamless in time. Rated as Excellent with ** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures. Considering its single vineyard origin, and the age of the vines you have to expect to pay a premium price.
As well as these wines, we also tasted a few others as well as some barrels samples. As I mentioned previously, the 2004 's look pretty schmick, and if you think that's good news, Troy feels the 2005 wines will edge them out, so there is a lot to look forward to from this winery in the next couple of years.
With the 2004 vintage, there will be the new release blend and instead of using that weed Viognier, Troy has decided to use Chennin Blanc (I always knew my spelling would get me into trouble one-day. ) The blend was been co-fermented and left on lees for a couple of weeks. The wine is mouth filling with loads of fresh fruit flavours and chocolate, it finishes much dryer than a Viognier blend; and that’s a good thing in my book. It will be a perfect bistro wine and should retail for $15 in the bottle shops.
Troy has a wicked sense of humour; on one wall of the winery is a vast array of caps from numerous companies that are in the wine business. When I commented on the collection, Troy took great delight in telling me that whenever reps come to visit, he makes sure he has their main competitors cap on!
After we left and were discussing the experience, John said "he is sharp as a tack;” no argument there, from my perspective is also a very talented winemaker. As production volumes of the main wines are cranked up, which they will be from the 2004 vintage and beyond, scarcity of supply should diminish and the wines should become more readily available; that's good news for consumers. However, the old vine Grenache and Shiraz, due to their very nature will remain limited and hard to source.
Even so, despite the fact that volumes are being ramped up, who knows what will happen to demand, it's possible it may still outstrips supply, so it is probably worth while getting on the mailing list. This winery is definitely going places.
In the car, we discussed a comparison between four of the best wines we have tasted on the trip so far at this price point. The Classic McLaren La Testa, the two Hobbs wines and the Kalleske Johann. Whilst they are all very credible, complete wines of impeccable class, all of them have different things going for them. Whilst each one of us had our favourite, there was absolutely nothing in it as to which was the best wine in the group; it all boiled down to personal preference. I would be happy to drink any of them at any time.
Our next stop was not for me to taste wines, although the others wanted to; I had to buy another two copies of the Wine Dogs book which is a fantastic collection of pictures of the dogs that haunt the cellar doors of Australian wineries. I had bought a couple of copies previously, one for Brian and one for me. When our mate Meta from Thailand saw Brian’s brand new copy, he loved it, so we agreed I would give Meta Brian's copy and would buy Brian another one. I am also wanted to buy one to give to Lynne as a small thankyou gift for looking after my dogs whilst I was on this trip. Knowing that the books were sold at Torbreck, and that Brian and John would like to try their 2003 releases (I had tasted them at Wine Australia last November,) we headed their next. The “closed sign” was enough to make a grown man cry, but to save Brian the embarrassment, I sent John in to see what was going on. After John had been gone for about five minutes, I decided a rescue party may be in order and went looking for him. Great news, the winery was open, they forgotten to remove the closed sign.
When we walked in the door, Liz told me the Torbreck 2004 Juveniles was about to be released and would we like to taste it. With loads of upfront ripe fruit, it sits in the mouth nicely and has a good mouth feel; there are enough powdery tannins to hold it together and support a lingering dry finish. It’s a clean, ample-weight fruit driven wine with good flavour complexity showing blackcurrant, a touch of blackberry, chocolate and mocha.
Torbreck 2004 Woodcutters Shiraz was also being released and we also tried it; it sells for $18.50 at cellar door. A fruity, red cherry and chocolate bouquet; almost lean in weight, with minimal dusty tannins it is an ultra-ripe fruit driven wine with a savoury finish. There is also a reasonable amount of acid to cut through the sweetness, it still gives the impression of being sweet and jammy. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Torbreck 2002 Les Amis – This 100% Grenache was about to be released and although it was normally not available for tasting due to incredibly limited supply, we lucked out as a bottle had been opened the previous day for a group of VIPs. Matured in 100% new French oak, the wine retails from $187.50. The bouquet is dominated by spicy French oak. A refined wine of ample-weight; with silky tannins, it sits in the mouth beautifully and builds across the palate incredibly slowly. There is nothing sweet about it, it is well and truly in the savoury spectrum showing spice, dark chocolate and yellow plum; it finishes with good persistence. A wine of impeccable quality, it is rated as Excellent with * for value and should be reasonably long lived. As good as this wine may be, I would rather have four bottles of the Kalleske which represents far better value. You're paying a huge amount for the name; 200 cases have been produced.
According to John, it should be called “Les Rip-Off” and despite that, a trip to Torbreck is always worthwhile; their mid-to top of the line wines are superb and always a joy to taste. There are not many wineries were I will (almost gladly ) fork out over $100 a bottle, but somehow on every visit to this winery I wind up doing exactly that; this was a cheap visit, I only bought the two books but just don't ask me how much I spent when I was there in February.
We decided to go to Peter Lehmann next. I love this winery because you never know what to expect and whilst there may be a few disappointments, on balance the wines are very good. They are also one of the class acts that allow visitors to taste the entire range of wines. As a lover of Sparkling Shiraz, I was excited to see the 1997 Black Queen had been released. I loved the 94 and although I tried the 96 on two occasions, found it a little sweet and confected.
Peter Lehmann 1997 Black Queen is only available at cellar door and sells for $35. Certainly not what I expected! Slightly lean fruit with an excellent balance, it is not overly sweet; showing blackberry, blackcurrant, chocolate and a spicy nature. Medium-weight it is a good wine and rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value and whilst there is nothing wrong with it, it just did not grab me, but then I'm very fussy when it comes to Sparkling Shiraz.
Peter Lehmann 2001 ‘1885 Shiraz’ is only available at cellar door and sells for $35. A single vineyard wine located near Kalimna, according to the information given, the vines were planted in 1885. The bouquet certainly gains one's attention. Plum, black cherry, a touch of spice and mint flavours lingers well in this seriously fruit-driven, easy-drinking wine. Minimal, ultra-smooth silky tannins provide a soft consistency, and together with the pure fruit produced a seamless structure and harmonious nature. Good winemaking is at play and it addresses a market segment. Rated as Recommended with ** for value.
Peter Lehmann 2001 Eden Valley Shiraz retails for $28 at cellar door. The bouquet expresses faint cinnamon, sweet cherry fruit and pepper which comes across the palate as spice, white pepper and cherry. Whilst the wine is ample-weight and has enough fine, dusty tannins to hold the wine together, the fruit seems almost a lean in comparison. With a supple consistency and agreeable complexity, this is a good food wine that is more traditional in construction than the 1885 Shiraz. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Peter Lehmann 1999 Stonewell Shiraz sells for $75 at cellar door. I was anxious to try this wine as I had recently picked up five bottles, based on reputation, and the fact that I used reward points to get them. A classy, intense blackberry bouquet with the grind of black pepper and sweet vanillin oak; the wine looked promising. Ample-weight, there are enough silky tannins to hold the wine together and provide a supple consistency, solid structure and harmonious agreeable complexity. Blackberry, tar, prune (but not overripe) and liquorice flavours finish with good length and persistence. Whilst it's easy drinking now, frankly it's disappointing. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value.
Admittedly a number of the new releases were not out yet and I had already tasted many of the existing wines on offer, but I must admit walking out of here disappointed. On reflection, the further I look back the more the change in direction that this winery is taking becomes obvious. Whilst that change will suit those who desire instant gratification, which admittedly is the majority of the market; those who wish to lovingly cellar wines and see them mature and improve, will need to look elsewhere.
The entry-level wines, especially when on special, represent great value and are a safe bet; even more so when buying inexpensive wine by the glass in a restaurant. When it comes to mid-price and icon wines, there is a certain intricacy and enjoyment that can only be experienced when wines have been built to age and have been allowed the time to realise their full potential. Unfortunately, it looks like Peter Lehmann is walking away from this market and there range, whilst well-made, is starting to look boring and “me too” as a result. The masses will be happy; those with wish to cellar wine will move on to something else.
Whilst we were discussing the wines in the car, John said "if it sounds like it's too good to be true it usually is." Obviously, that applies to the 1885 vines Shiraz which sells for $35. When one considers that Troy Kalleske’s wine from similar aged vines sold out in moments for $100 a bottle, and the Tahbilk 1860s vines now retails for $110 a bottle, one it can only wonder why a wine coming from vines of this age is so nondescript. In theory, they should have the makings of a very special wine.
Our next appointment was at one of the quality, long time consistent producers that are respected for their wines which are at the more elegant of the Barossa spectrum. There was a feature write-up completed in last year's tour diary on the Turkey Flat Winery. When making the appointment, I asked to be able to taste the 2003 vintage wines as they were going to be released in July and there is little point in writing up wines that would be sold out by the time the tour diary was published. They were kind enough to comply with the request and we were able to taste the 2002’s and the 2003’s side-by-side.
Turkey Flat 2003 Butchers Block will not be released for sometime as the 2002 has only just been released. An MGS blend, the wine is sealed in Stelvins and the current vintage sells for $26.50 at cellar door. True to style, the bouquet is racy with sweet raspberry, with offsetting spicy nuances and meaty notes. Perfectly balanced, the soft mouth feel is seductive, but the wine is well structured; filling in the mouth with complex flavours of rich, ripe fruit, the sweet raspberry uptake turns savoury on the mid-palate and the meaty finish lingers beautifully. A seriously, sexy blend with some class; this medium-weight wine with a supple consistency shows elegance and harmony; it should become seamless as it matures between 2007 and 2010. A great food wine, it is more savoury than the 2001 and rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value. A great way to start the tasting here.
Turkey Flat 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon has not been released yet. A dusty, varietal Cabernet nose with generous, pure-fruit showing coffee oak, and leafy characters. Abundant dusty tannins and pure, deeply-seated fruit back a serious wine with good balance and structure. Its savoury with blackcurrant, pepper, eucalyptus, chocolate and cigar box notes. Muscular-weight with a very firm consistency the complexity is well developed and this is a baby that needs time. A good follow-up to the 2001 that should mature around 2010, the wine is rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value. It was only after I had completed my tasting note, that I realised I was tasting the 2003 and not the 2002.
Turkey Flat 2003 Shiraz will have been released by the time you read this, and sells for $36 at cellar door. Although the wine is sealed under Stelvin, the first bottle opened showed nothing on the bouquet, and I mean nothing. Julie, who was looking after us agreed that she was not happy with the wine either and opened another bottle. The bouquet on the second bottle showed attractive, lifted fruit characters. Bottle variation under Stelvins can and does happen. Reasonably generous fruit is well supported by loads of fine, powdery tannins. Cherry, plum, and light chocolate flavours are contrasted by a leafy green back-palate; the wine finishes with good persistence. A tight, solid, firm, ample-weight wine with an agreeable complexity, it is rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Turkey Flat Sparkling Shiraz 2004 disgorgement sells for $40 at cellar door. After the very disappointing bottle we've had a few nights previously that seemed to be faulty despite the fact it was sealed with a crown seal, we were all keen to retry the wine. This bottle was much better and the way it should be. Well-balanced, with good tannin backing the wine is sweet on the uptake with strawberry and chocolate. Ample-weight, it is tight, solid and whilst almost lean, it finishes dry, which is always a plus with Sparkling Shiraz. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
I enjoyed the tasting at Turkey Flat; Peter and his crew are always very hospitable and friendly. The wines are all well-made but on this trip, the tasting was a bit of a mixed bag. The 2003 Butchers Block and Cabernet are both worth waiting for, and unfortunately the Shiraz was not as attractive as other years and a product of the vintage. As supply of the Shiraz is very limited, it will sell out quickly anyway. (End of part one)