"TORB’s September SA Sojourn" – (The 2006 South Australian Tour Diary)
Click here for Chapter One
Chapter Two – Saturday – McLaren Vale Continued
Bud Burst - Spring has sprung
A gentle meander through one's vineyards is always a good way to start the day, and John couldn't wait to show us his viticultural handiwork. Even to an untrained eye, the vines certainly look a lot better than when he first purchased the property. All those early morning, freezing winter starts have certainly paid dividends. John and Sue had a pretty good vintage last year; they managed to sell all their grapes, and considering the going rate, they did very well financially. They decided to keep back a small quantity of grapes and make their own wine. The Pie King, being smarter than the average bear, has heard a rumour there is a glut of red wine on the market, so he has decided to turn their supply into a Sparkling Shiraz. In this case, it may literally turn out to be what is colloquially known as FRS (Fizzy Red $hit, with the emphasis being on the last word.) John first told us he thought about naming it “Mean Hombre” (is he trying to corner Mexican Sparkling Shiraz market?).
In line with his determination to change his moniker from “The Pie King” to something that he deems more appropriate, John has decided not to name his winery “Pie King Bridge.” Unfortunately for his Pieship, from my perspective, if the hat fits wear it, and if I was a change to his nom de plume, there would be howls of outrage from Tour Diary readers from all over the world.
The Pie King and his Queen have actually decided to call their FRS Black Moose. To quote John in his own immortal words, “The winery will be known as El Guapo after that ugly bastard in the movie The Three Amigos.”
Two Peas in a Pod ...........................
So on one hand, he would prefer to change his moniker to Mandingo, for which he has no qualifications, and on the other, he is perfectly happy to call his wine El Guapo, a name which is eminently suitable.
To prove the above points, here is a quote from the movie.
El Guapo: Jefe, you do not understand women. You cannot force open the petals of a flower. When the flower is ready, it opens itself up to you.
Jefe: So when do you think Carmen will open up her flower to you?
El Guapo: Tonight, or I will kill her!
John decided to cook a “low calorie, low-cholesterol” breakfast for us. Well it was low calorie by his standards. I had two eggs on toast, one of which was a double-yoker, and a half a pig's worth of bacon; oink, oink. After growing up on a chook farm, Brian has an aversion to eggs, so he had a light breakfast; just a half a pig's worth of bacon
Although John had made us an enjoyable heart -starting espresso coffee, we had time for a top up in town before our first appointment at Oliverhill. The word "hill” in this winery's name is no accident. There is a magnificent one hundred and eighty degree panorama from the winery. It’s September, it’s springtime and bud burst is just starting. When we got out of the car, you wouldn't know it. There was a strong, but very lazy wind. The sort that is so lazy that instead of blowing around you, it blows straight through you. (Almost as strong as the Pie King's wind, only a whole lot less deadly.) We felt like we were in the Antarctic. It was so cold; it felt like it was going to snow.
Stuart's sons transport - just a bit worse for wear
There is not much I can say new about this winery. It's about my seventh visit so I have said it all before. Before we started tasting the wines, as we usually do, we had a chin wag and Stuart told us about his recent disaster.
In 2003 they made their first trial batch of Durif; it wasn't good enough to be bottled so it was scrapped. The 2004 sample I tried last year was a vast improvement and could have been a commercial success. After spending time in barrel, late one afternoon it was transferred to a 4000 litre fibreglass tank so it could be bottled the next day.
The next morning when Stuart came out, the tank was leaking from a small crack. Stuart noticed that the crack had probably been caused by a piece of timber under the tank, so he removed it. This caused the tank to fracture completely. Stuart stood there like a stunned mullet as he watched about 3000 litres of wine gushing out. Like a jugular vein that has been severed, it kept pumping until there is very little left. In this situation, all up about 72 cases were left.
Oliverhill 2005 Jimmy Section Shiraz still sells for $25 a bottle by the dozen; it's been that price ever since I can remember. Although the wine was too cold, it had lovely aromatics with spices, black fruit, and vanillin oak; once it warmed up, it would possibly have a little VA or lifted aromatics. A well-balanced, full-bodied wine with abundant dusty tannins and heaps of powerful fruit. The flavour profile is black with black cherry, liquorice and dried herbs but it's not overripe or jammy. The style is rustic but it is well structured and has good complexity. At 15.3% alcohol, it does show some warmth but should age well. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, it should hit its straps around 2011.
One of the reasons the wines are so well priced is they don't waste money on high tec repairs
Oliverhill 2005 Clarendon Shiraz is sealed in the screwcap for the Australian market and under cork for Asia. It also sells for $25 a bottle. The aromatics are sensational with loads of interesting spices, both from the oak and from the fruit; nutmeg, cinnamon and white pepper are all there in abundance. A big wine; ‘shiploads’ of tight, smooth powdery tannins offset by distinct fruit and although the consistency is very firm, the mouth feel is still supple. Spicy cedary coffee-scented oak on the uptake with plum, and spicy fruit flavours are more-ish, but the wine needs ages for the oak to integrate. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, come back and have a look in 2012 by which time the rating should have increased.
For the wines sealed under cork, Stuart uses premium “reference one” corks at a cost of fifty-three cents (plus GST) whilst the screwcap costs seventeen cents. Even then, cork taint can be a problem.
Total production is 4,000 cases, so it's a pretty small winery, but they must be doing something right, because their wines always sell out very quickly.
On the way to the next winery, we drove past the Old Barn restaurant and there was a sign outside which said “Open at nine o'clock for breakfast - come in and watch the football.” The tall, shaved-headed streak said “who won the football?”
The short bald-headed bigot replied “They haven't played yet; it’s Saturday morning. There are a couple of clues you may have missed. Your wife didn't go to work and your daughter who normally goes to school went to work.”
The tall, shaved headed streak quickly replied, “You are smarter than you look.”
“Thank god for that” said Brian.
Now dear readers, you may begin to comprehend what too many pies can do to one's mind.
Clearly The Pie King was not quite on the same page as we were, so we thought another hit of caffeine might wake up a few stray brain cells. Naturally we stopped at Koffee and Snax for another quick fix. Brian and I like our short black espresso coffee at different strengths. He is always berating me when I order and get mine the way I want it, and his gets screwed up in the process. This time I let him order, and despite the fact that he maintains he gave the correct instructions, he received a double short black, and I got a normal one, which is not what either of us asked for. I'm glad this happened, so now he can stop blaming me when the coffee orders are screwed up. (Brian: At least the double short black was nice and strong, not like a single short black filled to the brim.)
Marius Wines have gained a reputation for producing excellent quality, great value wines in a very short period of time. The winery is owned and managed by Roger Pike, a man with a very dry wit. The small vineyard is directly in front of Roger’s house, which is located south east of McLaren Vale, on rising ground. (It's almost next-door to the Battle of Bosworth.)
I have been trying Roger’s wines since his first vintage in 2000. In 2001, he didn't release any wine because he didn't feel what he produced was good enough. What a great attitude; if it's not good enough, it doesn't get the Marius label.
In a very quiet and assuming way, Roger is one of the most passionate winemakers I have come across. What is slightly different about this man is that, if anything, he has more passion for his vineyard than he does for his wine. Let me give you some examples.
He arranged to meet us at the gate of the vineyard because there was something he wanted to show us. It turned out to be a patch of exposed “dirt” at the edge of the road cutting. Roger said, “This quaternary alluvial gravel (with clay in between) – is very rare and extremely precious. In the vineyard, there is up to 10 centimetres of cover on top of this, but in places it is exposed.”
So I asked the most natural question in the world, “why is it good for growing grapes?”
Roger couldn't believe I asked such an impertinent and stupid question. He responded, “The results speak for themselves.”
I can't argue with that, I have tasted a number of his wines.
John responded “In other words he has no idea but it works.” And then it was on for young and old about the comparative advantages and disadvantages of the soils between the Pie King's sandy vineyard and Roger’s exotic stuff. Boring!
The 4 1/2 acres vineyard was planted in 1994 and is cropped at about three tonnes to the acre. Roger’s passion goes right down to the soil; he probably has named every vine in his vineyard and regards them as his children. Everything; and I mean everything that is humanly possible, is done by hand. A week before picking commences, he bunch-thins and removes anything that looks blousy, anything that the birds have been at, or anything that he just doesn't feel should go into the wine.
Unlike most vineyards, when it comes to harvest time, they don't just do one or possibly two picks, they do three or four. Even when they do one pick, Roger may even do two different ferments, and those ferments are all kept separate when they go into barrel.
Roger’s objective is to keep the natural characteristics of each pick of fruit and preserve them in each batch. By running multiple ferments, this also allows additional complexity to sneak into the wine. It's a lot of work, but Roger thinks it is far better than “homogenising” the lot.
Marius 2004 Simpatico Shiraz sells for $25 and is sealed with a screwcap. The bouquet shows lifted aromatics with earthy, mushroom notes. A muscular-weight, firm but supple wine that already is showing a harmonious nature; the construction is excellent and well backed by abundant, dusty tannins, fresh acid and deep, pure fruit. Plum, chocolate, a hint of cedar and herbs go for a long surf down the palate and linger well. A lovely wine; it's easy to knock back now, but will improve and should peak around 2010; rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value.
No Winery sign; selling the cash crop is more important!
Marius 2004 Symphony Shiraz sells for $35. The bouquet is brooding, closed and earthy. Deep, pure, persistent fruit combines with creamy, dusty tannins to form a muscular, ultra-tight, very solid and well- crafted wine that certainly makes one's senses sit up and take notice. Sweet fruit on the uptake with offsetting spices, there is nothing overripe or jammy about this one; black cherry, blackberry, dried herbs and chocolate flavours linger beautifully. The complexity is harmonious and well-developed already. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2012+.
Interestingly enough, when I first tried of these two wines some time ago, I preferred the Simpatico, but now I think the Symphony is a better wine.
Marius 2005 Symposium is an equal blend of Shiraz and Mourvedre; it is sealed under screwcap and sells for $30. 240 cases have been made. The bouquet is closed and tight but did show earthy, meaty notes and mushroom. A rock-solid wine with an excellent structure; it is backed by tight, fine-grained dusty tannins and deep, pure fruit. The perfectly ripe fruit has a black profile with charcuterie, liquorice, and coffee essence. Whilst it’s sweet on the uptake with offsetting dominant savoury flavours, it’s chewy and finishes with fantastic persistence. Muscular-weight with a supple consistency, it's a terrific wine and something a little different. It certainly stands out from the crowd. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, it should peak around 2011 and beyond.
The best way of summing up this winery, is in Roger's own words. “The results speak for themselves” and when it comes to his wines, there is not one that I have tried that I wouldn't be happy to have in my own cellar; indeed almost all of them are there. The wines are always high-quality and well priced.
We hopped back into John's executive council-supplied stretch limousine (wagon) which has enough leg room for the average Harlem Globetrotter. John still complains that his Ford doesn't have as much leg room as the Holden equivalent, but unfortunately he is not high enough up on the council corporate totem pole to qualify for one. Sheesh! What do you want for nothing? He is only about six foot eight! I can't understand what he is complaining about; but then, if he didn't have something to complain about, he wouldn't be happy. I often wonder if that is the reason he accompanies me on these trips. He can spend the next 11 ˝ months complaining about the hell I have put him through.
The next appointment was at Oliver’s Taranga. I first visited with Don and Margie Oliver a few years ago, but the first wines of theirs that I purchased go back to the 1997 vintage. The Oliver family has been growing grapes in McLaren Vale since the beginning of grape-growing there. They are now one of the largest, and most respected, growers in the area. They consistently produce top-quality grapes. For example in 2002, the fruit from the Shiraz vines that were planted by Corrina’s grandfather in front of the homestead went to some fairly respectable homes. Fifty percent of the fruit went to Grange, twenty-five percent went into Eileen Hardy and the balance into the Oliver’s Taranga HJ Reserve. This is not one of those wineries that states “our fruit goes into Grange” where it may have happened once 20 years ago and they are still trading on the reputation. They have five blocks where the grapes regularly go into Grange and Eileen Hardy, so the vineyard brand is always first and foremost in their mind.
From left - Apprentice to the Pie King, Brioni Oliver, his Pieship and Corrina Rayment
With three hundred acres, only eight percent of their fruit goes into their own wines. Don is the head viticulturalist, Brioni does the marketing, and Don's niece, Corrina Rayment makes their wine.
I had heard a lot about Corrina, but had never met her until this visit, so we started off sitting around the table having a natter about her winemaking philosophy. One of the first subjects we discussed was the blending of wine. Here we have the complete antithesis to the philosophy of our last winery. It just goes to show there is not necessarily one correct way of doing things. With wines that contain more than one grape variety, Corrina is a great believer in co-fermentation, and that starts in the vineyard.
Supervising the tasting
For those that are familiar with the British TV comedy, Yes Minister, this could be seen “as a courageous move.” Firstly, the grape varieties that you wish to use have to ripen at the same time, which is not always possible, as was the case in 2001. Secondly, once you co-ferment, there is no turning back. You do not have the advantages of bench blending tiny samples, to see what produce the best result. It's a bit like bacon and eggs. The chicken is involved, but the pig is totally committed. So why do it?
According to Corrina, “I like this process, because whilst it's an old-fashioned way of doing things, it is the way they made a lot of the old clarets in their day. The Cabernet berries are a lot smaller than the Shiraz berries, and that gives you a lot more Cabernet skin ratio in the mix. I like the process because it produces wine that has a real Cabernet menthol lift on the nose, and yet it maintains the juiciness of the Shiraz through the mid-palate.
Oliver's Taranga 2003 Corrina's Blend is a Cabernet Shiraz mix that is sealed under cork and retails for $28 from the winery; fewer than 300 cases have been produced. The bouquet shows pleasant, sweet fruit notes with hints of mushroom. It has a black flavour profile with blackberry, aniseed, chocolate, and coffee essence which all linger nicely. Just ample in weight, firm, tightly-grained fine tannins combine with the fresh acid and distinct fruit to form a solid wine with an agreeable complexity that is a very good result for the vintage. It's ready to go now and is rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Oliver's Taranga 2004 Corrina's Blend is a Cabernet Shiraz mix that is sealed under screwcap and retails for $28 from the winery and should be available by the time you read this note. The bouquet is bright, lifted and shows lovely aromatics. The French oak is obvious in both the tannin management and flavour profile. Tannins are smooth, unobtrusive, dusty and tight; the acid is fresh and the fruit is pure and driving the wine. Blackberry, blackcurrant, chocolate, lots of coffee, a touch of dried herbs and cigar box flavours, produce a very enjoyable profile. Medium-weight with a supple consistency, it is still tight; my rating of Recommended with *** for value is probably a little tough.
Oliver's Taranga 2003 Shiraz has been matured in both French and American oak and approximately a thousand cases have been produced. The bouquet showed strong coffee essence with vanillin characters and a hint of rubber. Smooth unobtrusive tannins back an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency and agreeable complexity. Coffee, mocha, chocolate and aniseed provide an interesting, intense flavour profile. Rated as Recommended with *** for value; it's an easy, ready to drink now, crowd-pleaser.
The Old/New Cellar Door .........................
Oliver's Taranga 2004 Shiraz should be available by the time you read this note and 2000 cases have been produced. The bouquet shows coffee essence, vanillin oak, plum aniseed and spice. Smooth tannins are unobtrusive but provide sufficient backing for this ample-weight, supple wine that has an agreeable complexity. It is similar in style to the previous vintage but a better quality wine. Coffee, aniseed, plum, vanilla and dried herb flavours finish with good persistence. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, it eminently drinkable now but the rating should go up as the wine matures.
Oliver's Taranga 2002 H.J. Reserve Shiraz has been matured in a hundred percent new French oak for thirty months. A very pleasant bouquet, it’s lifted and shows abundant coffee oak dominating the profile. Deep, strong, persistent fruit is sweet on the uptake with a spicy mid-palate showing blackberry, blackcurrant, aniseed, coffee, mocha and chocolate flavours which continue on a long ride through to the back palate. It's a deceptive wine, it seems simple on the first look but there's a lot going on below the surface. Muscular-weight, it is firm, has a supple mouth-feel, and whilst it is harmonious now, it should become seamless in time. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating will increase as the wine matures over the next 10 years. (As I get this ready for posting, it has just been announced this wine has won a Trophy at the National Wine Show.)
Oliver's Taranga 2003 H.J. Reserve Shiraz retails for $42 and should be available by the time you read this note. The bouquet is more subtle than the previous vintage and shows spices and coffee. Abundant dusty tannins and fresh acid combine with pure fruit to form a muscular, firm wine with a very well-developed complexity. The tannins hit. Then the fruit flavours of coffee essence, spices, hints of dried herbs, and subtle aniseed kick in. A very good result for the vintage and a very credible wine, it is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should peak around 2010+.
The New Winery and Barrel Room
It was interesting to be able two compare to vintages of each of the wines. They are consistent across the labels. Even more importantly, the house style is a hundred percent consistent across the entire range.
When we were there 18 months ago, their proposed cellar door was an old ruin and home to countless pigeons and who knows what other wildlife. It's still not finished, but the transformation has been remarkable and a brand new winery and barrel shed has been erected next door to it.
Upon seeing the renovations, his Pieship made a very astute observation. For an industry that is supposedly in crisis, there are many wineries spending an awful lot of money building new buildings, and expanding their capacity which will allow room for further growth.
In the case of this winery, the plans are long-term, but when your family has been growing grapes for over a hundred years, it's natural to think that way. Corrina anticipates that they will go from producing eight percent of their crop under their own label, to somewhere between ten and fifteen percent over time.
I won't bore readers with details of our lunch; suffice it to say we went to a bakery which sold pies, coffee flavoured milk, juice, and freshly made bread rolls, so I will leave it to your imagination as to what was consumed. Boring!
It was quite apt, that after our visit to Oliver's Taranga, who is one of the most respected growers in the region, our next winery should be to the largest and most highly respected viticultural business in the area. Paxton’s also turned to making their own wine a few years ago, and more recently converted some old ruins into a new cellar door. On a previous trip, I saw the original naked state of the ruin. It wasn't a pretty picture, but it certainly had potential. That potential has now been realised and their cellar door has opened. It's a combination of the old and the ultramodern.
The Old ................and the New
Paxton 2004 AAA is a blend of Shiraz and Grenache (72%/18%) that is sealed under screwcap and sells for $21 at cellar door. 2000 cases have been produced. The overt lifted nose shows blackberry which is replicated on the palate with very ripe, juicy fruit, plum, aniseed and spice. An ample-weight wine with chewy but silky tannins, the consistency is soft and the complexity diverse. A very quaffable drop and a great party wine, it's rated as Recommended with **** for value (dozen price, which is less 10%.)
More Before ............. and After
Paxton 2002 Shiraz is sealed under cork and retails for $37 by the bottle. The bouquet showed a touch of VA with blackberry and coffee. As it opened, the VA blew off and attractive, perfumed characters started to emerge with spice (nutmeg and cinnamon.) A well-balanced and well-built wine with fine, smooth tannins, fresh acid and pure, strong deeply-seated fruit that delivers blackberry, coffee, spicy oak, and pepper flavours. There is a touch of green character running through the palate. Muscular-weight, with a solid, tight structure, it is attractive and easy to drink, and whilst it lingers for ages, it fails to excite. Still, it's rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value and should peak in a couple of years.
Our next visit was without an appointment, to one of our perennial favourites, Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard. You can't go to McLaren Vale and not visit them. If memory serves me correctly, I first visited this winery over 30 years ago and walked out with a case, which immediately went into my cellar. I have been enjoying their wines ever since although there was probably a 15 year period in the middle, where for some reason they dropped off my radar. I started buying them again with the early 90 vintages and have never been disappointed with the way their wines have developed. Being on the mailing list certainly helps, because the Block 6 costs $45. It is interesting to note that the US importer pays the same price as mailing list subscribers (less tax), which explains why it is $75 in the US.
Both the Colin’s were unavailable, but we were still well looked after, but that is no great surprise as experience has shown Kay’s look after their long-term customers extremely well.
Kay Brothers 2004 Shiraz retails for $22 and is sealed under screwcap. Pure, distinct fruit combines with unobtrusive silky tannins to produce a full-bodied wine with a supple consistency, open structure and agreeable complexity. The mouth feel is attractive the, wine is clean and it lingers well. Aniseed, chocolate, and plum flavours are in the savoury spectrum; if only all $22 Shiraz was this good. With loads of flavour, it is very quaffable and frankly I didn't want to spit. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, you can happily drink it now. This is my sort of (high-quality) barbecue wine.
Kay Brothers 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is also sealed under screwcap. This one is a surprise, it has a varietal Cabernet nose that is dusty and shows eucalyptus and blackcurrant. Abundant, smooth dusty tannins support good quality fruit. It is slightly sweet on the uptake with off-sweet characters on the mid-palate and herbs on the finish. A full-bodied wine that is firm, solid and whilst it may improve with time, at this stage it is not as attractive as the Shiraz. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, it should peak around 2011.
Kay Brothers 2004 Hillside Shiraz sells for $34 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The freshly opened bottle was very broody. The acid is fresh, and the pure, deeply-seated fruit is perfectly balanced to the smooth tannins providing almost seamless construction. Chocolate, black cherry, coffee, aniseed and a hint of dried herbs are attractive and whilst it's approachable now, it should improve with cellar time. A muscular, firm drop that is tight and has a well-developed complexity, it's rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, and that rating may go up as the wine reaches its peak.
Considering the Hillside plays second fiddle to the Block 6, the Block 6 should be stunning and I am damn glad I have some in the cellar. The wines from this winery are all big. Unashamedly so! Big but balanced and normally not over the top, but they won't be everyone's cup of tea, which is just as well; the top two are hard enough to source already. If you can't find those, the standard Shiraz is certainly worth buying.
The next appointment was just down the road at Maxwell Wines. For me, a trip to Maxwell's is mandatory as I always have to stock up on their polo shirts. Besides being good-quality, pure cotton and very good value, I love their inscription “Life's Too Short to Drink Bad Wine.”
Mark Maxwell told us a very interesting story. McLaren Vale and Port Pirie were both surveyed in 1839 and the main street of McLaren Vale, using a high degree of imagination, was named Main Street. The main street of Port Pirie was called Ellen Street. One of the most famous families in the McLaren Vale area was the Manning family and naturally enough, there was an Ellen in the family. The street running along Maxwell's vineyard was named Ellen Street, after Ellen Manning.
Mark told us the Willunga Council, in their infinite wisdom, decided to change the name to Chalk Hill Road.
The tone in Mark's voice when he used the words "infinite wisdom" left us in no doubt as to his thoughts on the matter. John is employed by the local council, so I thought I had better set the facts straight, so there could be no misunderstanding, by saying, “The words ‘local council’ and ‘infinite wisdom’ are an oxymoron and are mutually exclusive terms. Unfortunately I cannot print John's response as this is a family program.
Mark contacted the council and expressed his dismay, as he had a block called the Ellen Street Block, and a wine named after it. The next week, the council met to discuss the situation again and decided to change it back to Ellen Street. Good news for Mark!
Shortly after that, the council received a letter from a local contractor, together with a bill, because he had changed his stationery. The council decided they didn't have the money to pay for that sort of expenditure, so changed the name back to Chalk Hill Road again. “A wise move Minister” – well, as wise as any local government decision.
We had a wander through the winery and tasted our way through numerous barrel samples. The advantage of doing this is that it gives one a good picture of what the winery is doing and where it's going. Let's face it, generally 03 was a very difficult vintage and from a personal perspective, I purchased significantly less wine from this vintage than any other since I started keeping accurate statistics; so tasting the 04 samples was important.
We were lucky enough to be able to try the finished, blended, tank sample of the 2004 Ellen Street Shiraz. That is a lovely wine. It shows rich plummy chocolate, juicy jube-jube fruit, and a hint of pepper. Its muscular in weight, has a good tannin structure and attractive mouth-feel. It finishes with good length and lingers nicely. This will definitely be worth waiting for and worth buying, so look out for it!
Maxwell 2003 Cabernet Merlot sells for $16 and is sealed under screwcap. After having just stated what a dog the 2003 vintage was, the very next wine I try turns out to be another exception to the rule. Mushroom, earthy notes with red and blue fruit aromas lead to a palate of blackcurrant, strawberry, chocolate, liquorice and loads more chocolate. Pure, strong fruit is well matched to the dusty tannins and whilst they appeared to be just sufficient initially, they build up quickly. Ample-weight with a very firm consistency, the complexity is harmonious, making this a great party wine. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, drink over the next five years.
Maxwell 2003 Lime Cave Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $28 at cellar door and is sealed and cork. It has an unusual aroma, one of the pie-eaters thought it smelt like "dried dog hair” (and that's not too far off the mark) together with blueberry, subtle coffee and menthol. The uptake is sweet red berry fruit, which moves into the blue fruit spectrum and goes savoury. With chocolate and coffee on the mid-palate, it finishes very dry with menthol. Ample-weight, with a firm consistency, solid structure and well-backed by powdery tannins, it’s rustic but needs time to soften. This description was probably a little harsh and doesn't do the wine justice; rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as a wine matures over the next few years.
Maxwell 2004 First Colony Shiraz retails for $25. The wine hails from the cool Kangaroo Island. The bouquet is attractive but subtle, showing mushroom, chocolate, red cherry fruit and white pepper. Fine, chewy, powdery tannins back some meaty fruit to form a just, ample-weight wine with an agreeable complexity that is interesting and a bit different. It's slightly rustic with ripe fruit that is off-sweet with milk chocolate, subtle white pepper and plum. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, it needs time for the tannins to resolve.
Maxwell 2003 Ellen Street Shiraz retails for $28. The nose is black. Coffee, heavily toasted oak over plum with chocolate and mocha flavours; it's a muscular, firm, solid, tight wine and whilst there is nothing wrong with it, it doesn't particularly appealed to me. Rated as Recommended with *** for value; it should peak around 2010.
Maxwell's are now producing a new flagship wine whenever they have material that is of sufficient quality. Mark is also playing around with the techniques in making this wine. The batches are kept separate and the wine is matured in French, rather than American oak. French winemaking techniques are also being trialled. For example, lees stirring and then leaving it on lees; this produces a wine that is different in style to the rest of their range. It is not as fruit driven, and has been built with structure, quality, and finish in mind. The vines were planted in 1953.
Maxwell 2004 Meracus 53 Shiraz sells for $58 and only 118 cases have been produced. (Meracus is a Latin word meaning pure.) The bouquet is very attractive and shows spicy French oak. This is a seriously good wine. Pure, deep fruit is perfectly matched to the fresh acid and tight, dusty tannins. The mouth-feel is delightful, the balance seamless and the structure classical. Off-sweet on the uptake with coffee, spices, aniseed, pepper; the flavours are all black but there is nothing overripe or approaching the blackberry spectrum; it's a classy wine. Ample-weight with a supple consistency, solid and tight structure; the complexity is well developed and it’s rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, but the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2014 and beyond.
The visit to Maxwell's was most enjoyable, and made even more so for Brian because Mark Maxwell has three German Short-Haired Pointers (one old and sleeping in the office, one mature and a 5-month old gangly pup, both roaming the cellar door and winery); so Brian felt right at home and got his Weimaranar-cousin dog fix. From my perspective, whilst some of the 2003 wines were typical of the vintage, the barrel samples certainly showed that there will be some very good wines coming from here in the future.
That was the end of our appointments for the day, so we had time to freewheel and his Pieship insisted that we go and visit Samuels Gorge. I might add, that almost every winery we went to mentioned that we must visit there. When you get that many recommendations, it has to be good. To get there, you drive past the entrance to Chapel Hill and just keep going; it's right next door. The location is quite apt/ironic: Samuels Gorge has been started by Justin McNamee who used to being one of the two winemakers at Tatachilla. The other wine maker was Michael Fragos, who is now the winemaker at Chapel Hill, so they are still virtually working next to each other.
The view from the car park of the back of the winery could best be described as rustic, with almost organised chaos reigning supreme. This winery is very much a case of what you see is what you get. I had been warned that our host Justin was eccentric, but that did not prepare me for the absent-minded mad professor, meets Fawlty Towers, meets a character out of the Simpson’s.
If you went on appearances, you would drive into the car park and straight out again, but as I had been told by so many people what a winemaking genius Justin was, I was not concerned about the look of the place.
We walked into the cellar door and it didn't look rustic; it was far beyond that; it looked not just antique, but antique in original condition and never touched, not even too clean. (That's probably a bit harsh, but you get the picture.)
Our host, who was holding court, was standing beside the counter, not behind it, and enjoying a conversation with another couple. He wasn't just enjoying the conversation; he was thoroughly enjoying his own product.
Samuels Gorge 2005 Tempranillo sells for $35 at cellar door. The bouquet was really unusual. Tight, fine, dusty tannins are very long and firmly buttress a solid, authoritative structure. Sweet on the uptake with an off-sweet savoury mid-palate, with hints of herbs on the finish, there are flavours of chocolate, blackcurrant and white pepper. An ample-weight wine with a diverse complexity, it's very interesting and whilst it's okay now, it's a baby that needs time to improve. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should peak around 2010.
Samuels Gorge 2004 Grenache sells for $35 at cellar door. The bouquet exudes raspberry/strawberry; it's sweet with milk chocolate and obvious nutmeg. A bloody serious Grenache; I could drink this one. An excellent balance and terrific structure is provided by the pure, deep fruit and abundant dusty tannins. The flavour profile is layered; sweet on the uptake with a juicy mid-palate; its off-sweet and savoury on the finish with underlying sweetness wafting in and out. An ample-weight, firm solid wine with a well-developed complexity; its food friendly and rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value; it should peak around 2010 and beyond.
Samuels Gorge 2004 Shiraz also retails for $35. After the previous two wines, my expectations were high. A lifted bouquet with lovely aromatics; it’s showing coffee and spiced oak, with mocha. A veritable shipload of dusty, drying, long tannins that currently buries the deeply-seated, strong, pure fruit; it will take years for the tannins to resolve and for the fruit to eventually surface. It is ripe, with chocolate and coffee on the uptake; the mid-palate shows off-setting savoury peppery characters which moves through to more than a hint of dried herbs and cigar box. Muscular-weight with a very firm consistency, the structure is solid and tight and the wine has potential. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
The wines were all very good, but it was surprising to find the Grenache and the Tempranillo overshadowed the Shiraz, which was a tad hard. Justin proved he was a very talented winemaker when he was working at Tatachilla, and now that he is out doing his own thing, his true talent is starting to shine, and it is shining brightly. This is a winery to watch, is it going to go places. Quickly!
A trip to McLaren Vale would not be complete without a visit to one of the most consistent wineries in the region. Pirramimma has been around for over 110 years under the same family ownership. Ever since I can remember, they have been making consistently good wine that always represents real value. On this occasion, I did not have an appointment, but we were expected at cellar door sometime during the day.
Pirramimma 2003 Petit Verdot is sealed with the cork and sells for $26.50 at cellar door. The bouquet showed varnished oak over reticent fruit. On the palate, although the fruit is persistent, it is delicate and shows chocolate, black fruits liquorice and musk. Almost lean in weight, the complexity is agreeable but it's a very ordinary wine. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Pirramimma 2004 Petit Verdot is sealed with the cork and will sell for $26.50 at cellar door when it is released. The wine had just been bottled and was locked up tight. The bouquet showed slightly vanished oak over pleasant floral characters. Loads of dusty, drying tannins combine with fresh acid and distinct fruit to produce an ample-weight, firm wine with a diverse complexity, but it does have a modicum of elegance. The mouth-feel and structure are both good. Spicy oak, heaps of chocolate, liquorice, and plum flavours are chewy, and the wine needs food. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve in a couple of years.
Pirramimma 2004 Shiraz is sealed with the cork and had not been released at the time of tasting. Although the bottle was really cool, the bouquet still exuded delightful floral aromatics. As it had just been bottled, although it was showing all the right components, it was suffering from bottle shock. Abundant dusty tannins combines with deep, pure persistent fruit to form a medium-weight, firm but supple wine that is still tight, and has a diverse, harmonious and well-developed complexity. Plum, redcurrant, liquorice, black cherry and blackcurrant flavours complete the package. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, this one will definitely be worth buying.
Pirramimma 2003 Cabernet is sealed with the cork and sells for $26.50 at cellar door. The wine was also a little cold and showed varnished oak over dark blue fruit. Dusty tannins combine with delicate fruit to produce a muscular, firm, solid wine within agreeable complexity. Blackberry, coffee, mint, herbs and aniseed are pleasant but unexciting. Wait for the 2004. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Pirramimma 2002 Vintage Port is a Grenache based wine and sells for $17 for a 500ml bottle. The bouquet shows rancio characters which are possibly due to oxidative handling. It is very sweet, a lean, Portuguese style, showing rose petals, the oxidative character comes through on the finish too. It's fairly simple and future vintages will need work, but the masses will love it. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value. According to the winery, "The 2002 is a Vintage Fortified Grenache, which is really not a true vintage port. It is made more like a 'ruby port' and is aged for a short time in old oak barriques, hence the rancio/oxidative characters. As with this style, it is best consumed in its youth, and will not have the typical aging characteristics of a vintage port." That puts it in a different light so those looking for a serious VP should avoid it, but those wanting a ruby style, will enjoy it.
It appears the 2003 was a pretty tough vintage for Pirramimma in some ways, but sometimes you can get lucky. The effect of a positive review, no matter how ludicrous, can certainly help wineries to sell wine. It was interesting to note that the 2001 and 2002 Shiraz were available for sale at cellar door, yet the 2003 had sold out due to a positive review in the US. I have no doubt that 2001 and 2002 are better wines.
Pirramimma is a remarkably consistent winery and I think their 2004 will be right back on track. It's amazing how some of their wines can be so approachable in their youth and you don't think that they will last, yet they do, and improve. Look out for all their 2004’s, I know I will.
We had just a little bit of time before the wineries shut shop for the night and decided to call in at Foggo Wines. My first introduction to this winery was a couple of years ago when out of the blue, they sent me some samples. They were pretty damn good, and the value aspect was appealing too. Every time I drove past Foggo Road, I kept thinking I must call in there, but somehow never got around to it.
The winery is operated by Herb and Sandie Van De Wiel. They bought their plot of dirt about 16 years ago and it has a lot of old vine material. The Shiraz and Grenache vines are about 90 years old and are dry grown. The 50 year old Cabernet vines are youngsters by comparison. Yields are between three quarters of a ton and four tons to the acre, depending on variety and season.
It's a hands-on operation where they do as much as they possibly can by hand, and by themselves. According to Herb, “We ferment almost everything in barrel, so we have to rack and press each one individually. When we blend the wine, we have dozens of unique parcels to choose from to make our final blends. We find that fermenting in the barrel makes the wines softer and more approachable at a young age. It’s an old-fashioned way to do things but the results speak for themselves.”
They use an 80%/20% mixture of French and American; about a third being new. One year and two year old oak makes up the remainder.
Herb is a pretty gregarious and open sort of a cove and not afraid to call a spade a “bleedin’ shovel” and his wife Sandie is no shy, retiring violet either.
Our visit started off in an “interesting way.” First we respectfully declined to taste the whites, and received the sort of reaction we occasionally get from some wineries. We then tried the FRS. There wasn't a huge amount left in the bottle, and the wine was, from my perspective, not sound. We were left with the impression that it was basically tough luck as it was late afternoon and not really worth opening another bottle. So in a reasonably stroppy tone of voice, I said if they didn't want me to review it that was fine. At that point, I gave them my business card and the penny dropped. (The reason I didn't give them my card initially, was I thought we may be in and out of there very quickly as it was getting late.)
Suddenly time ceased to be a problem and the attitude changed.
Foggo Black Myriah sells for $30 at cellar door. This was an impressive Sparkling Shiraz. Flavours of plum, chocolate, aniseed, black current and spices finishes with a very pleasant dryness and holds one's interest. It was not overly fizzy but it was also, more importantly, not NutraSweet. More-ish; it is certainly worth buying and is rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value. Since tasting this wine, Brian and I split a dozen case-purchase and the wine we bought was certainly not the same as the wine we tried. There has obviously been a new release, and as these are NV wines, one can't tell when that occurs. That's the bad news. The good news is the new release is just as good, possibly better, but the colour makes it look like a barrel sample and it will take the little time to show its best. It's certainly worth while putting down for a couple of years. Cellar door club members pay $27 with free freight. That makes it sensational value.
Foggo 2004 Shiraz sells for $30 at cellar door. When the first bottle of this was poured and it was corked, after the incident with the previous wine, I was almost reluctant to point it out. However it was handled with good grace. The bouquet was closed but showed some mushroom, earthy character. Tight, silky tannins provide an excellent structure and a very pleasant mouth-feel. The palate is smoky with coffee oak, milk chocolate, blackberry, more chocolate and white pepper. Medium-weight with some elegance and a refined complexity, this is a very credible wine that will be food friendly. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, drink between 2009 and 2013.
Foggo 2004 Cabernet sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. A varietally correct Cabernet with blue and red fruits, mint/eucalyptus, aniseed, milk chocolate and a reasonable amount of herbaceous characters. It's a medium-weight with a supple consistency, solid structure and needs time for the smooth, but serious amount of tannins to resolve and for the fruit to surface. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, come back for another look in 2011.
Foggo 2004 Hubertus Reserve Shiraz sells for $45 at cellar door. The bouquet was slightly volatile but that could have been because it had been open awhile. Strong, pure, persistent fruit is well matched to the silky, dusty tannins that build up over time and mould a magnificent mouth-feel. Blackberry, loads of liquorice, chocolate, mint and dried herbs assist to provide a refined complexity. The wine shows good class and some elegance but demands time and should be sensational. Rated as Excellent with *** for value.
Foggo 2003 Red Dodge Shiraz sells for $30 at cellar door. Matured in American oak for 24 months and the wine shows it. The bouquet exudes toasted American oak, coffee and vanillin characters, which leads to a very oaky, dry palate showing coffee, plum, black fruit and aniseed. The tannins are drying and puckering and whilst the fruit is deeply seated, it is not sufficient for the oak. Rated as Acceptable with ** of value, it is ample-weight and very firm.
Foggo 2004 Three Sheds Late Pick Shiraz sells for $35 for a 500 ml bottle. This is the love it or hate it style. The bouquet showed lots of coffee oak, which is also found on the palate and it’s a dry port style of wine. Not for me.
The standard range of wines at Foggo (which does not include the last two) was certainly good. The house style across the main range is totally consistent, which is another plus for those who like wines to be similar from year to year, obviously allowing for vintage variation.
By the time we got out of there, it was well after five, and it was like we had just left a couple of old friends. We certainly laughed and joked a lot once we got past the initial awkwardness surrounding the first bottle of wine. This is another one of those small wineries that is producing good stuff and flying below the radar.
Finally, at one stage during a tasting, Herb said, “Good wine is better than sex.” You should have seen the look on his wife Sandie's face. I hope Herb has a big dog kennel at home, because it looked like he was going to need it.
That was the end of the formal proceedings and all that needed to be done was to have another good dinner. Prior to departing John and Sue’s place, we opened a bottle of Peter Lehmann 1994 Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz. This is one of the all-time best FRS I have tried. It just keeps getting better and better; the bottle was simply stunning and disappeared in record time, which is not unusual when Sue is around. For those that are not aware, The Pie Queen is not into wine; the one exception being that she really enjoys a good Sparkling Shiraz. She doesn't just drink the stuff, she just inhales deeply and it disappears.
The Barn is one of the oldest restaurants and McLaren Vale, and over the last 30 years or so I have eaten there on numerous occasions. Although it has had a number of owners in that time most of the meals have been memorable.
The reason we were going to The Barn this night was because we allowed the Pie King to choose the restaurant. Apparently it had recently changed hands and John had taken to meeting but Glen Green there for a beer after work on Thursday nights. He thought that as the beer was good and the owner was a nice fellow, the food would be good too. That's known as "Pie King Logic!”
When we arrived, the reception that we received should have been an indicator of what was to come. John had made a reservation for four but they didn't have it listed. John insisted that it had been made, because whilst he was there having a beer he saw it being written into the diary. A quick search of the diary found the reservation. The only problem was that it was for the previous Saturday night.
The first wine opened at the restaurant was a Kay Brothers 1996 Block 6 Shiraz and although it opened up a bit stinky, the bottle stink soon blew off. A very typical Kay’s wine with a bit of age, it was an earthy, and showed blackcurrant. As the wine opened up, rich dark chocolate emerged. The tannins have not fully resolved and the acid is still fresh; this wine will probably last a long time. A full-body drop with excellent length, it fills the palate completely with long tannins and has commendable flavour punch. Rated as Excellent.
We decided to start off with “a tasting plate.” It normally contained a half a dozen oysters, but as there were four of us we asked for a dozen. Skewers of meat, salt and pepper squid, a large pile of bread, marinated mushrooms, olives, brie, and a couple of dips certainly provided more than enough food for all of us as a starter. The flavour of the salt and pepper squid was pleasant but it was too oily. The spicy lamb skewers certainly were spicy, and most enjoyable. The taramasalata was enjoyable but the baba ganush was pretty ordinary. The marinated mushrooms were fine, but the olives seem like they came out of the bottle from the supermarket. John and Sue aptly described the cheese “as exciting as home brand supermarket cheese.”
Whilst the starter looked good, and the serving was generous, overall it was enjoyable but not particularly exciting.
The service was "interesting." First example. Sue ordered a Diet Coke and received it. Five minutes later, a waitress came back with another drink, wanting to know who had ordered the (real) Coke. Not us. Wrong table. Little things let them down. For example we ordered a dozen oysters to be shared by four people, but there were three tiny bits of lemon. A few minor things, probably classed as attention to detail, could significantly lift the dining experience here.
The table behind us ordered a bottle of the Eileen Hardy 1987 which was the Jimmy Watson Trophy award winner in 1988. The wine was ceremoniously presented at the table and uncorked. The waiter, who just happened to be the owner, then proceeded to decant wine by pouring it very quickly (and completely) into the decanter, thus ensuring that the sediment went right through the wine.
Our next wine opened was a Mitchelton's 1998 Print Shiraz. Initialling showing a lot of charred oak, it fairly quickly metamorphised into typical Victorian Shiraz mushroom-like characters, together with pepper. The palate shows a very black flavour profile that is more into the liquorice spectrum rather than charred oak. Although it has quite a pleasant mouth-feel about it, it is certainly not a subtle wine. It's fairly full-bodied
In terms of main course options, the menu didn't make me jump for joy, and it was going to be hard to decide which one I really wanted. It was more a case of what can I order that I think I will enjoy. With the exception of an occasional steak, when in restaurants I try to order food that I wouldn't make at home for myself. That meant that dishes like the spatchcock were out, as I make it regularly. Of all things, I ordered a beef parmigiana, thinking that that would be a fairly hard dish to mess up. It arrived and looked like a typical, upmarket pub meal and was accompanied by a half of the field of mashed potato. John ordered a chicken schnitzel that was humongous. Sue ordered fish and chips and they delivered a half a shark. Brian ordered a lamb shank, and it looked more like a half a leg of lamb. To say the least, the servings were certainly generous.
The highlight of this course were the chips. They were cooked to absolute perfection and I could have happily made a meal of them alone. If I had tried, I would have had multiple fork stab wounds to my hands, from the three other bodies at the table. His Pieship described the chips as “certainly having a fair amount of redeeming, but social value.” Another true and wise pronouncement from his Pieship’s throne.
My beef parmigiana was about as subtle as a train smash. It was about an inch thick with a very thick layer of batter around the meat. Nothing subtle about this at all. There was no ham in the parmigiana and the cheese was thrown on top. John thought that his chicken schnitzel was very good, but then he only had two pies today, so anything would have tasted good to him.
After we finished our main course, the people at the table behind us, who had ordered the 1987 Eileen Hardy got up and all left, leaving almost a half a decanter of wine on the table. Brian, not being backward in coming forward, thought it might have been a good idea to shanghai the decanter as they had left. I advised it was probably not a good idea. It's just as well, that for once, he actually listened to me and didn't take the decanter. There would have been some serious embarrassment and explaining to do when they returned from their cigarette break about ten minutes later.
When it came to the dessert menu, the only thing that possibly looked like it could take my fancy was the winter fruit crumble. I said to my fellow diners, "What’s the bet the winter fruit crumble has rhubarb in it?" Needless to say, I intensely dislike rhubarb. Sure enough, it did.
Tonight was Chapter Two of the Cheese Platter Story. Brian and John were deciding what to have for dessert. It will come as no great surprise to regular readers of the Tour Diary, that after much discussion, a cheese platter was in order. John said, “I wonder what's on the cheese platter.” Brian replied, "Well, there will be a brie, a blue and a cheddar.
When Brian asked the waitress what was on the cheese platter, she said she would have to go back into the kitchen and check. When she came back we were informed there was a brie, a blue and a cheddar. That cracked us up. Not being content with that answer, Brian asked her, “What sort of brie, blue and cheddar are they?" It was off to the kitchen to find out. A few minutes later she returned and we were informed that the cheese came from “the Adelaide Hills". Given that there is a cheese factory in the Adelaide Hills the boys decided to go for it.
Sue ordered a honeycomb ice cream with macchiato, and it looked so disgustingly rich, that I thought one could be arrested for doing it in public. Sue thought it was beautiful.
The cheese platter arrived and as well as the three described cheeses, it had about 10 Jatz biscuits, about four insipid looking light orange bits of dried apricot, a slice of pear, and a funny little bit of dried apple. The boys tell me the cheddar was good, the blue was good, but the brie may have come from the Adelaide Hills, but it tasted like it came from a packet from the Bi-Lo supermarket in the Adelaide Hills. Very ordinary.
After having tried and failed to get a taste of that 1987 Eileen Hardy, Brian was not going to give up easily. He grabbed what was left of out 1998 Mitchelton Print (and there was a fair amount as I didn't drink my share) and asked if he could swap it for a taste of the Eileen. Brian obtained his sample, and it was cloudy and full of sediment. What a waste.
Overall I didn't find The Barn particularly appealing, but it was full, so they must be doing something right and appealing to a market segment.
That was the end of the day two. Overall, the wines we tried they were above average and there were a few standouts. We had planned an early start, so a good night's sleep was imperative and we all headed off to bed at a respectable hour.
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