"TORB’s September SA Sojourn" – (The 2006 South Australian Tour Diary)
Click here for Chapter Two
Chapter Three – Sunday – Clare Valley
Sunday is supposedly the day of rest, but I was not going to let those two pie scoffers off easily. An early start was required as we had to drive to the Clare Valley. The early night had paid dividends. Not only were we ready to go on time, which was a first, but we actually had the car packed before our scheduled departure time of 7.30 am. It was unusual to see John not looking as sick as a dog after our first night dinner.
We said our goodbyes to Sue, and Brian and I thanked her for opening up their home to us. As I kissed Sue goodbye, she thanked me for getting John out of her hair for the week.
This pile of giant match boxes is hidden in the hallway of the Pie King Bridge Travelodge (It has been downgraded from Hilton due to the state of the plumbing - as described in Chapter One). Is the Pie King a closet pyromaniac?
There are many possible routes to take between McLaren Vale and Clare, but we have found going through the Adelaide Hills, then through Williamstown (southern Barossa), and then instead of going through the Barossa itself, detouring through Gawler and up the highway is the fastest and easiest route. The normal modus operandi is to leave early and have breakfast along the way, which also breaks the drive up into two comfortable segments.
We got to Lobethal which has a very good bakery. It is one of the few that I am happy to eat at because they do a lot more than pies, and their food is good. I couldn’t believe it; the place was closed. Sunday! Apparently many of the SA Lutheran community, even those in the baking business take their religion seriously.
When we got to tiny Williamstown there were a couple of places open where we could have gotten food, but they didn’t look appealing, so I made a management decision and decided we would have breakfast in Gawler. Gawler is a much bigger town and only about twenty minutes away. We got to there and drove around town looking for somewhere to eat. Not once; twice. Closed! The whole bloody town. Nothing open. Not impressed! How can you have a joint this size and not be able to get a cup of coffee and a bit of breakfast at 9 am on Sunday? Is this a modern Australian city or a medieval backwater?
We took the best thing to come from Gawler, the road out of town, and headed towards Clare. By this stage, John was desperate for a comfort stop so when we eventually got to the Roseworthy Roadhouse/service station we stopped.
We took a look at the menu, décor, and the equipment, and decided we were not game to try the coffee. It was bound to be that revolting, nasty, instant muck. I asked if they had brown bread. The server opened the freezer to have a look at what bread was available. This was not looking good.
When the food arrived; the so-called toast, was hardly toasted and to make it even less appealing, was soggy. The fried eggs were as hard as rubber and only just warm. The bacon was dripping in fat. I left most of my breakfast. It was the worst bacon and eggs I have ever (not) eaten. When we left, as I dictated my notes, I said “avoid this place like a dose of the pox.”
Note the modern and tasteful decor I think its called food but after tasting could not be sure
When the food arrived; the so-called toast, was hardly toasted and to make it even less appealing, was soggy. The fried eggs were as hard as rubber and only just warm. The bacon was dripping in fat. I left most of my breakfast. It is was the worst bacon and eggs I have ever (not) and eaten. When we left, as I dictated my notes, I said “avoid this place like a dose of the pox.”
The Pie King thought it was stunningly good. I kid you not. He then went on to say, “Grumpy Old Men have got nothing on you this morning.”
I responded, “Well what the hell do you expect. A xxxx inedible breakfast and I am three cups of coffee behind where I should be at this hour of the morning. It’s xxxx caffeine and food withdrawal.”
Brian just chuckled and said, “I don't know how I'm going to edit this part of the Tour Diary.” (Don’t worry Brian, I have done it for you.)
The rest of the trip to Clare was uneventful, although I must admit I have been in a better frame of mind.
We had no appointments today, but we did have a prioritised list of wineries we wanted to visit.
Grosset Wines is located in Auburn, which is the first town you reach when entering the Clare Valley. The winery is normally closed, but we were lucky enough to arrive during one of the six weekends in September and October, when it is open. Jeffrey Grosset is famous for two things. Firstly, his Riesling is renowned throughout Australia. Secondly, he was one of the founding, driving forces behind the screwcap revolution that has taken Australia by storm. Speak to anyone in the wine industry, and no one has a bad word to say about him. Indeed, he is one of the most respected people in the industry. Besides making two Rieslings, a blended c-through, and a Chardonnay, he also makes a Pinot, and from my perspective, more importantly, a very good Cabernet blend.
When we arrived, we were lucky enough to find the man himself behind the counter. There was another couple that Jeffrey was serving. It was very interesting to listen to him talk. Naturally enough, eventually the subject soon turned to closures. Jeffrey speaks with a quiet confidence that leaves listeners in no doubt as to his beliefs, and more importantly, his professional ability. The only thing I can't work out is why, if he has a red bigot haircut, he makes all those c-throughs.
It was interesting to hear him state there are many topics that he would like to talk about, but invariably the subject always winds up being screwcaps.
Grosset 2004 Pinot Noir is made from Adelaide Hills fruit and sells for $50. Needless to say it is screwed and not corked. The bouquet shows strawberry and a good level of feral, mushroom Pinot characters. Distinct fruit combines with crisp acid and dusty tannins to form an almost medium-bodied wine with a supple consistency, and elegant, tight structure, and an agreeable complexity. Cherry, chocolate, mushroom, feral characters, and some herbal notes on the finish complete the package. Rated as Recommended with ** for value, the wine needs time to show its best and by 2009 the rating should improve.
Grosset 2003 Gaia sells for $45 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. A refined, tight bouquet; the class is obvious, it shows blueberry and vanillin characters. It has a solid structure, backed by loads of drying, powdery tannins, and the pure fruit delivers redcurrant, blueberry and milk chocolate. It's slightly sour in nature, and there is a slight green hint to the finish. Medium-weight with a supple consistency, the complexity is well developed and is rated as Recommended with *** for value, but the rating should improve with time.
Just around the corner is another well-known and well-respected winery. Mount Horrocks is the proud baby of Stephanie Toole. It's a small winery; annual production is only about 4,500 cases. Stephanie describes her wines as handmade, food wines. Although most of the wines are white, there are three that always interest me.
When we arrived, I thought to myself, you beauty. There was a couple sitting on the veranda with empty coffee cups in front of them. At last, I am going to get a caffeine fix. Or so I thought. It turns out the xxxx coffee is plunger stuff. (The caffeine withdrawal is getting worse.)
Mount Horrocks 2002 Cabernet Merlot sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. Chewy, creamy, powdery tannins provide an attractive mouth-feel and whilst they currently bury the fruit, given time the fruit will surface. Blue and red spectrum fruit flavours on the uptake, lead to a chocolaty mid palate, with dried herbs and tobacco on the finish. Medium-weight with a supple consistency and well-developed complexity, the wine shows some elegance, and is not at all shabby for the price. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value; drink from 2009+.
Mount Horrocks 2004 Shiraz sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows blackberry, coffee and liquorice. Fine, drying, dusty tannins are offset by fresh, sharp acid that needs time to settle down. The palate follows the bouquet with oregano. Medium-weight with a supple consistency and agreeable complexity, others will find this more attractive than I do. Rated as Recommended with *** for value; drink from 2010+.
Mount Horrocks 2006 Cordon Cut Riesling sells for $28 for a 375ml bottle and is sealed under screwcap. I have yet to be disappointed by one of these. The bouquet was delightfully perfumed with floral aromatics and citrus. I could have sat and sniffed it all day. The tannins are velvety and are well matched to the fresh, crisp acid, and pure fruit. Palate flavours of orange, passionfruit and hints of aniseed provide a harmonious complexity, and the consistency is silky. A damn fine wine, it’s rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
After leaving Mount Horrocks we hit the main street. Right in front of us was an interesting little store that had wine available for tasting, but more importantly, they sold real coffee. We were in there faster than you can say "three desperados.”
When I ordered coffee, in an endeavour to get what I actually wanted, and not wind up screwing up Brian's order, I asked for a short black with hot water on the side. Such a simple solution, and it works, we both got what we wanted. After I was halfway through my first cup, I was already starting to feel normal, well is normal as I will ever be, but I still needed to get my caffeine to a respectable level, so ordered another cup.
His Pieship came out with another one of his golden gems. “This coffee will ruin the book that you are writing.”
My reply was, “What; a book on how to be aggro?”
“No. How to Whine Your Way to Alienation.”
The next winery we came across was Tim Gramp in Leasingham. If the name Gramp seems familiar, it should be. They've been involved in the wine business for five generations and Tim's grandfather was the man that made Orlando (now Jacobs Creek) famous.
Tim Gramp 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows mulberry, vanilla and hints of coffee which is replicated on the palate with some minor herb characters. Fine, powdery tannins provide a soft consistency. It's a medium-weight, elegant, very easy to drink and food friendly. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, drink over the next three years.
Tim Gramp 2004 Gilbert Valley Shiraz Cabernet sells for $22 at cellar door. And 80/20 blend, the bouquet is lifted with blackcurrant/mulberry and menthol. The wine is driven by pure fruit with just enough smooth, unobtrusive, powdery tannins to provide a soft consistency, and hold the wine together. Spicy nutmeg, mulberry, chocolate, char and blackcurrant flavours are clean and bright. A very approachable, food-friendly wine that should be hugely popular; open a bottle and watch as it disappears rapidly. Rated as Recommended with *** for value; drink over the next three years.
We arrived at Claymore Wines and whilst I was mucking around getting myself organised, the boys headed into the cellar door. Regular viewers of this soap opera will be aware of my propensity to leave things behind, and break vital equipment like recorders and cameras. As I was mucking around with my bag on the passenger's side, I reached into my camera bag to grab my PDA/phone only to find it not there. Shock! Horror! I will be in big trouble if I lost it. Panic stations. I raced inside to tell the boys I must go back to the last stop to look for it, and then charged out the door. This was a three-alarm fire.
When I got to the car, this time to the driver's side, there it was sitting on the ground. It had fallen out of its pocket in my camera bag when I had gotten out of the car. Whew! I breathed a big sigh of relief and walked back into cellar door with a smile my face, feeling like I needed a bloody big Scotch. Either that or the caffeine hadn't kicked in as much as I had thought.
As things go, the Clare Valley is a fairly small wine region and traditionally didn't have a huge number of wineries. Over the last few years, like every other wine region in Australia, a significant number of new wineries have entered the market, but for whatever reason, in Clare it seems to be a smaller than average percentage. Claymore is one of the new players.
The first time I visited I was not particularly impressed. My second visit was a different story and having tried a few of their wine since, think they are doing good things. The winery is actually owned by two doctors. Justin Ardill who also owns Reillys Wines at Mintaro, is a cardiologist in Adelaide. Justin is a double doctor; he holds both a medical degree and a PhD. The other partner is Anura Nitchingham who runs the winery on a day-to-day basis. I am not sure which one of the partners chooses the evocative names for the wines, but it does indicate an interesting musical collection.
Claymore 2005 Walk on the Wild Side is a Shiraz Viognier blend and sells for $20 at cellar door. Blackberry, plum, chocolate and aniseed flavours show no overt Viognier flavours, but the Viognier has helped the texture. Unobtrusive, velvety, powdery tannins support the pure fruit. It is ample-weight, has a soft consistency, and harmonious complexity. It's easy drinking, good value and surprisingly for a Shiraz Viognier blend, even I liked it. Drink over the next four years, it's rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Claymore 2004 Graceland Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows varietal Cabernet characteristics with sweet fruit and spicy oak over cigar leaf. Although the powdery tannins abundant, they are not overt and perfectly balance the pure, distinct fruit. A well-made wine; flavours of red spectrum fruit including red current, strawberries, milk chocolate and spice are delivered with absolutely no green Cabernet characters. Ample-weight with a supple consistency and an agreeable complexity, this is a good quality, clean wine that is okay now but will continue to improve for some years. Rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Tasting/Fact Sheet of one of the Claymore Reds
Look at the frightening residual sugar level
It's not a desert wine - its a typo!
Claymore 2004 Dark Side of the Moon Shiraz sells for $25 and is sealed under screwcap. Tannins are chewy, powdery, and almost puckering, and combine with fresh acid, and distinct, obvious fruit to form an ample-weight, firm wine, with a solid structure, and agreeable complexity. The flavour profile is black; blackberry, char/coffee oak with chocolate and mint; it's not my favourite type of flavour profile although others love it. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Claymore 2003 Nirvana Reserve Shiraz sells for $35 at cellar door. An attractive nose showing hints of coffee, there is lots going on with hints of spicy oak, and abundant berry fruit. Lavish chewy tannins combined with pure fruit to form a solid, very firm wine that is bordering on being hard. The palate is chewy with chocolate and spice, and if the fruit comes up and the tannins resolved it will be most enjoyable. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, try again in 2011 by which time the rating will have improved or declined.
The 2004’s were pretty good wines. The spicy oak character shows through as a house style and from my perspective, the use of slightly less oak influence would improve the wines.
The next winery on our trail was a tiny one, but I am yet to have a bad wine from them. Clos Clare produces a very small range of wines from its five-acre property. It's another one of these wineries that flies so far below the radar it is in danger of colliding with a submarine. No web site and only scant details in the guidebooks. They just keep quietly doing their own thing, and the wine always sells out in a reasonable timeframe.
Clos Clare 2004 Shiraz sells for $24 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is fruit driven, ripe, rich and juicy. A darn fine wine for the price. The palate is backed by pure, juicy fruit with plum and mulberry on the uptake, and then the powdery tannins kick in and support a long lingering finish. Medium-weight with a supple consistency and an agreeable complexity, it's rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value and should hit its straps around 2010+.
The delightful ‘senior lady’ who looked after us, to quote John was pure gold. What a character. She had a great sense of humour, and although I gave her a lot of cheek, she dished it right back at me. The cellar door would be worth a visit just to meet her, but luckily the wine gives a second good reason to go there. And if you need a third, I love their bright red polo shirts and now have one of those in my cupboard too.
Penna Lane is an interesting little winery located directly behind Kilikanoon. Like many wineries in Clare, they make good honest wines at reasonable prices, so are always worth checking out. They also have two beautiful dogs that I enjoy saying "hello" to, but unfortunately on this occasion they were on holidays, as were the owners of the winery.
Penna Lane 2004 Shiraz sells for $22 and is sealed under screwcap. Redcurrant on the uptake with a spicy, chocolaty mid palate and dried herbs on the finish; it's well backed by chewy, powdery tannins that provides a supple consistency and agreeable complexity. It's okay now, but should be more attractive with a bit of time in the bottle. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Penna Lane 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $22 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is varietal and shows smoky oak. A clean, well-balanced and well-made wine backed by long, powdery tannins; it's medium-weight and whilst it needs time for the tannins to integrate, it is well worth consideration and should improve significantly over time. Juicy fruit, mulberry, and mint flavours finish very dry and linger well. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2012+.
Penna Lane 2003 Willsmore Reserve Shiraz sells for $40 and has been made from 70% Barossa fruit with the balance being from Clare. The bouquet shows spicy, cedar oak with lots of vanillin characters over dark fruit. Powdery tannins and obvious fruit combine to form a muscular-weight wine with a supple consistency, solid structure and well-developed complexity. A good result for the vintage. Blackberry, spice, white pepper and liquorice flavours complete the package. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value; drink from 2009.
At Wine Australia in July, Brian and I tried our way through many of the Kilikanoon wines so we didn't need to call. John had not tried their recent releases, so in a fit of magnanimous generosity we allowed him to waste our valuable time by going there. There was one wine that I hadn't tried, so the visit was not in vain.
Kilikanoon 2004 Blocks Road Cabernet sells for $27 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is full throttle, showing clean berry fruit with mint, and earthy, oak notes. Loads of powdery tannins provide a solid, firm backbone for this well structured wine which will be better once the tannins have resolved. Ripe fruit delivers red and blue berry spectrum flavours with mint; it certainly holds one's interest. Ample-weight with an agreeable complexity, this is worthy of cellar space. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, drink from 2009+.
A few years ago this was a thriving independent liquor store.
Last time we were there, it was part of the BWS Chain and had a very ordinary
selection of generic major company wines. Gone was the excellent selection of local wines.
Now the BWS is gone - long live the independents.
At long last, it was lunchtime and I was finally going to get some food. As we drove into Clare proper, there was a new addition in the main street. A Subway sandwich shop had come to town. I must admit, I'm quite partial to their healthy and filling subs. I didn't give the pie eaters a chance to object. I bolted out of the car and into the restaurant. Luckily they followed. When asked what I wanted to order and I immediately rolled off “a foot-long wheat, toasted, with chicken teriyaki, no cheese, and when it comes to the salads no onion, no jalapeño, pepper, no salt, and sweet onion sauce” the boys looked at me with amazement.
It was my turn to laugh when I watched them order, and they had absolutely no idea what they wanted and looked like they were all at sea.
There was one plus and one minus with this experience. In South Australia they are re-trialing the possible introduction of beetroot on the subs, something I heartily endorse. The one negative, was this being South Australia, they didn't have an espresso machine, as they do in New South Wales. We sat outside in the sunshine and I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch. The expression on the pie guzzlers faces must have resembled the expression on mine, when I am forced to endure their choice of bakery. That made me feel even better than eating the food.
You can't go to Clare and miss visiting Jim Barry. It's one of the institutions in the area. There was a person I had not met on previous visits managing the cellar door. His behaviour was exuberant and somewhat theatrical. I gave him my card. He put it down on the counter and eventually, barely, glanced at it, and continued to do his own thing. Clearly he was more interested in doing his own thing than he was in me. On the other side of this coin, when I wanted to take a photograph of a sign, he was incredibly helpful.
Jim Barry 2004 the Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $18 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows ripe blackberry, cherry, varnished oak and mint. Rounded tannins produce a soft consistency, and together with the distinct fruit, produce a harmonious, very agreeable, easy drinking crowd-pleaser. It has loads of fruit flavour that is not hugely varietal and shows blackberry, chocolate and mint. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, it will walk out the door.
Jim Barry 2004 The Lodge Hills Shiraz sells for $18 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is dominated by varnished, vanillin and mushroom oak characters. The palate shows blackberry, liquorice, chocolate and mocha flavours. Tannins are minimal. A medium-weight soft wine, with a seamless structure, and agreeable, harmonious complexity; it's another very easy-drinking party red. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Jim Barry 2003 McRae Wood Shiraz sells for $45 at cellar door. We were proudly informed the wine had won three trophies and because of the demand, customers were only allowed to purchase two bottles each. With three trophies under its belt, I was expecting a wow wine. The bouquet showed characteristic varnished, vanillin and mushroom oak characters. Silky tannins and pure fruit provide a sensual mouth-feel and the wine is squeaky clean. The palate shows loads of oak flavours including coffee, vanilla, nutmeg as well as pepper, mulberry and dried herbs. There is a sweet river of fruit running through the wine with offsetting savoury aspects, and whilst it finishes with reasonable length, there is not a lot of generosity. The structure is seamless, the complexity harmonious but the warmth is noticeable. I can see why it would do well in shows; it's a real show pony and the mouth-feel would certainly earn extra points. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it's seductive enough to be consumed now.
In the past, when we have been there on the weekends, The Armagh has been available for tasting. When I asked the cellar door manager if The Armagh was on tasting, I was informed in no uncertain terms, “The Armagh has never been on tasting.” So either I am imagining having tasted it on a couple of occasions at cellar door, or our server knows better. Overall, in some ways we were all left with the impression that we were lucky to be served in such an august establishment. This superior attitude may go down well with some people, but certainly doesn't go down well with me.
In a fit of generosity, or possibly insanity, I decided to let Brian select the next winery. He told us that Mt Surmon Wines had produced an excellent, Reserve Nebbiolo in 2003 and the winery was worth visiting. The winery is located a fair way off the main road, with a long driveway leading to the summit of the hill. As you drive into the car park, one cannot help being impressed with the gardens. The building looks pretty schmick too. This place could be a winner.
We climbed up the stairs and into the cellar door come art gallery. The panoramic vista was spectacular; well spectacular in comparison to Coonawarra. They have spent a lot of money on the building and the ambience. The background music was louder than you would normally find in a cellar door, and the type of music played went with the modern image.
We were greeted by a staff member, who turned out to be the proprietor's son. He was proudly wearing a “Responsible Service of Alcohol” identification badge with his picture on it. After a very short period of time talking to him, it was apparent that the average 747 does not fly as high as our host.
The first wine we tried was a Sparkling Nebbiolo which showed volatile, varnished oak on both the bouquet and the palate; it was not worth while writing a tasting note. The next wine was a lot better.
Mt Surmon Wines 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $20 at cellar door. The bouquet is driven by ripe fruit which leads to a palate that is lightly flavoured with red and blue spectrum fruit flavours. Lean in weight, there is a fair whack of tannins but the consistency is supple. It doesn't have much complexity and needs time for the fruit to surface. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Mt Surmon Wines 2004 Shiraz sells for $20 at cellar door. Oh dear. The nose is blousy with Brett and horse characters. The fruit is almost lean but the dusty tannins provide a good backbone. Plum and black fruit on the uptake lead to a horsy finish. Rated as Acceptable (if you are Brett-tolerant) with ** for value.
Finally, we “looked at” the 2004 Nebbiolo. Wine professionals offer use the expression “do you want to have a look at xyz or have you seen abc wine?” In the case of the 2004 Nebbiolo, “look at” was an accurate description. It was another wine that qualified for do not put in mouth it was absolutely rank with acetate.
There was an orange ukulele sitting on a chair; it was not hard to miss. Even John could see it through his glasses which are as thick as the base of a champagne bottle. When John asked our host about it, he talked about what an attractive instrument it was to play.
As we walked out, John said, “Clearly he had absolutely no idea.” Considering he asked me what Brett was, as well as a few other questions that should be able to be answered by somebody who had worked in cellar door for more than about five minutes, I agreed. Brian's comment was "He needs training wheels.”
If you think the comments about our server were tough, you should have heard the comments that John and I directed at Brian for recommending this place. They are not fit to appear in print and it will be a long time before Brian lives this recommendation down. What's more, we will make sure we remind him of it at every available opportunity. (Brian's Comment: To try and make amends, I gave Rick a bottle of the 2003 reserve Nebbiolo to try. I expect him to review it very soon and to be impressed by this apparent fluke of winemaking amongst all the other faulty wines.)
No way was Brian going to select the next winery, and as Cardinham Estate was close and on our list of wineries to visit, we headed their next. The vineyards were first established in 1980 and for over two decades, they supplied all their fruit to other wineries. Over time, their vineyard holdings have increased and they now have approximately a hundred and fifty acres. It is interesting to note that their web site states, “we have received high praise and ratings from wine writer James Halliday, giving us a 5 star rating in 2004/05.” Whilst researching this winery, I happened to notice the current rating in the 2007 Halliday Companion is 3 stars.
Cardinham 2005 Sangiovese sells for $18 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. A very earthy nose, with faint hints of floral rose petal aromatics. Unobtrusive, dusty tannins combine with pure fruit to form a medium-weight wine with a supple mouth-feel, and diverse complexity. Intensely savoury with a layer of ripe, sweet, strawberry running below that finishes to coffee; it's an interesting flavour profile and whilst sweeter than many, is still attractive. A terrific food wine and wonderfully drinkable, it is rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Cardinham 2002 Cabernet Merlot sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. I took one sniff of this wine and the bouquet reeked of skunk. I asked the lady of mature years who was serving us to please check the wine to see if it was sound. Without sniffing or trying it in any way, she confirmed it was fine. No way I was going to put that in my mouth, and poured it out. Brian kept swirling his, and it quickly became apparent that the wine was suffering from significant cork taint. I told our host the wine was corked and she replied, “Oh is it really” and left it on the counter, obviously ready to serve the next person. She then followed up with, “Its fine, I checked it yesterday.” To make matters even worse, I think she was one of the owners.
Cardinham 2003 Shiraz sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed with a screwcap. The nose was volatile and showed E.A. Fine, dusty tannins provide a very firm, very solid wine that is tight. Black fruit with liquorice and a herbaceous mid palate that continues to run through the wine. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
As we walked out, John suggested that I have a Tour Diary Award for the “NFI Winery”. We had just had two in a row that would be contenders.
I can understand why James Halliday has dropped the rating on this winery from five stars to three stars.
We weren’t doing particularly well in this neck of the woods so decided to head to a different part of the valley. The last time I visited Eldredge (not to be confused with Eldridge Estate in the Mornington Peninsula,) there was a magnificent lake at the front of the winery that was completely full. On this occasion the impact of the drought and lack of rain through winter could not be more obvious. The winery was established in 1993 and they produce around 6,000 cases. Generally speaking the wines I have tried have consistently been good quality and well made.
Eldredge 2004 Shiraz sells for $17 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows mushroom, chocolate and mocha over plum. A fruit driven wine that sits well in the mouth, it is backed by minimal powdery tannins. Plum, cherry, chocolate, coffee and mint flavours are agreeable and finish with reasonable persistence. Just ample in weight, it's easy to drink but well constructed. As John said, "It would be easy to put enough of this in your mouth to make you fall over quickly.” Rated as Recommended with **** for value, drink over the next four years.
Eldredge 2003 Sangiovese sells for $25. The bouquet is black and shows spices. It's got structure and it's got lots of dusty tannins; it's got length, the mouth-feel is supple, it's lean, but where is the complexity? The palate is better than the nose suggests and shows black cherry spices and pepper. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value. I'm not sure what they are trying to do here, but I don't think it's working.
Eldredge 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $25. The nose was either volatile or showing varnished oak, but as the palate was okay, and it was getting close to the end of a quiet day for the winery, we didn't ask them to open a new bottle. Loads of fine, powdery tannins currently bury the fruit, but the wine still manages to maintain a pleasant mouth-feel. Ample-weight with a very firm but supple consistency, it's off-sweet with blueberry, hints of dried herbs, and vanilla, all on a very dry finish. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value now as the wine matures around 2010 and beyond, I wouldn't be surprised if that rating jumped to Highly Recommended. Don't let the current rating put you off, it has loads of potential.
Eldredge 2004 Blue Chip Shiraz sells for $25. A well-constructed wine with unobtrusive, fine, tight tannins, fresh acid and pure fruit that delivers a very interesting flavour profile that is off-sweet with some sweetness below. The persistence is reasonable but there is not enough length on the palate; once it has had time to flesh out, it should be a blinder. And ample-weight wine with a sophisticated level of complexity, it's rated as Recommended with *** for value and as it matures, will probably be Highly Recommended with **** for value.
Eldredge 2002 Gilt Edge Shiraz sells for $65 at cellar door. This is sexy. It’s inviting and creamy, with red and blue spectrum fruit on the bouquet. A complete wine with some class that is still a baby. The tannins are fine and tight and perfectly balanced to the pure, deep fruit. Blueberry, mint, cherry, plum, and chocolate finish long, clean and dry with excellent persistence and punch for its ample-weight. It's still tight, and the complexity is well developed. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, the rating should improve to Excellent as the wine matures. In today's very competitive market, this would be much better at $50.
We walked out of Eldredge feeling like we had tried some credible wines that had potential for improvement. After the previous two very ordinary wineries, we were glad this one was a hit.
As an aside, if you wish to make the most of your time in Clare, you have to be there over the weekend. A large number of the wineries only open on Saturday and Sunday. Many wineries rely on cellar door sales as a mainstay of their business, and for those that do in Clare, based on what we saw, there must be some nervous people. In most of the wineries we visited, we were the only people there. Where we found other people, it was generally just one couple.
There were a few wineries where to quote John, “the people behind the counter, where happy shiny people with moustaches and earrings,” and John was wondering if these wineries were trying to attract a niche market. In all seriousness, given the lack of visitors to cellar doors, I wouldn't like to be relying on visitors to make a living.
The road out the front of Eldredge is dirt, and goes in a big semicircle so we kept on going until we got to Stringy Brae. This is a family owned operation with vines that were first planted in 1991. They now have approximately 170 acres under vine. The majority of their production is sold to other producers. In a smart move, they now have the O'Leary Walker boys as their contract winemakers.
Stringy Brae 2004 Cabernet Shiraz Malbec sells for $18 at cellar door. It's a 65%/25%/10% blend and although an unusual one, it works. The bouquet shows mulberry, and vanillin oak, which are both found on the palate together with plum and dark chocolate. It has a lovely structure; it's fruit driven but well backed by powdery tannins, and the fruit rides the tannins to a long finish. Ample-weight with a supple consistency, the complexity is well developed and is rated as Recommended with **** for value. Drink over the next five years, it's terrific for the price.
Stringy Brae 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $22 at cellar door. The bouquet shows blackberry and toasted oak which is replicated on the palate. The fruit is pure and the wine has a good mouth-feel. Loads of drying, powdery tannins may not resolve before the fruit starts to fade. It would also be better with less toast to the oak. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Stringy Brae 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon is much more attractive than its predecessor and is sealed under screwcap. Abundant but controlled powdery tannins currently dominate the deeply-seated fruit which needs time to surface. It still manages to maintain an attractive mouth-feel. Earthy, mushroom oak over blackcurrant; it has lots of oak flavour on the palate but it is all right. Medium-weight, it’s solid and the complexity is well developed. Rated as Recommended with *** for value; give it a couple of years in the cellar.
Stringy Brae 2002 Shiraz sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows spicy oak, mocha, menthol and mint. Abundant powdery tannins and distinct fruit provide a solid structure and a pleasant mouth-feel. Its medium-weight with a supple consistency, and an agreeable complexity; it has the added advantage of being food friendly. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
There was one consistent factor across the entire range of wines: they all have lots of tannins.
That was the end of the day's formal proceedings and we headed back into town to the Clare Valley Motel. I have been staying here for years, but it is looking tired and in need of a makeover. Furniture that shows significant fraying is not a good look. Brian didn't think the air-conditioning in his room, that sounded like an antique DC3 taking off for the first 10 minutes of operation was a particularly good feature either.
The best way of finding out where to eat is to ask the people at the wineries. In Clare, virtually everyone suggested the Salt and Vines for two reasons. Firstly the food was good, and secondly they are one of the few places open on Sunday night. Like many restaurants in wine regions, they allow BYO, which is a distinct advantage. It's interesting to note, that on all my trips to Clare, the same restaurant has never been recommended twice in a row.
When we arrived, the restaurant was virtually empty. We were greeted by a delightful, sprightly, quietly spoken, "country gentleman" who would have been in his 70’s, and was probably a relative of the owner, who drew the short straw and worked Sunday nights. It was an absolute pleasure to be looked after by him.
As we were in the Clare Valley, it was quite apt the first wine we opened was a Tim Adams 1994 Aberfeldy. I have had a number of these over the years, and the wine just keeps getting better and better. It has a beautiful bouquet and the palate is certainly not a letdown. It has a lovely combination of a sweet river of fruit running through it, with contrasting off-sweet characters. The blackberry and mint flavours are certainly not overripe, or in your face. There is a fair amount of oak there, but it has been absorbed. Likewise, the tannins are resolved. Rated as Excellent without a second thought, and whilst it's in its peak drinking window, it's not going anywhere in a hurry. Tim Adams produces remarkably consistent wines.
For a starter, John and I both had bug tails with wasabi mayonnaise. They were fresh, cooked to perfection and the wasabi mayonnaise added interest. Surprisingly enough, they went extremely well with the next wine. For a starter Brian had a dish that consisted of finely chopped up roast lamb (that was just a little too well cooked), with assorted mixed leaves, capsicum and tomatoes, and a pleasant, tangy acid dressing.
Wendouree 1994 Cabernet Malbec was very earthy with menthol on the bouquet. The abundant tannins have softened nicely but still back the wine solidly. Blackcurrant, chocolate, aniseed and mint flavours finished long, and cut through the wasabi mayonnaise like a knife through hot butter. As you would expect it was a full-bodied wine. Brian also found that the dressing on his dish cut through the tannins beautifully. As the wine opened, the mint became more pronounced, the wine softened, and it was rated as Excellent.
Normally in country restaurants that are away from the coast, I'm reluctant to order seafood as you never know how fresh it will be and the fish is frequently disappointing. Over half the menu consisted of either fish or seafood, so I didn't think I was taking too much of the risk by going against my usual practice and for a main course I had a seafood medley which consisted of, amongst other things, calamari, flathead and a couple of scallops that were as good as they come. Everything was tasty, simply prepared, but cooked to perfection. You can’t ask for more than that when it comes to fresh fish and seafood.
For a main course Brian had an Australiana Medley. It consisted of rare kangaroo, venison and emu. It looked magnificent and judging by how quickly Brian ate it, and how quiet the conversation was whilst we were eating, he must have thoroughly enjoyed it. Brian was impressed. The Wendouree also went extremely well with the richness of the sauce.
It is time for dessert and here comes Chapter Three of the Cheese Plate story. No surprise, the Pie King and his faithful Apprentice decided their cholesterol level required a much needed boost (as I deprived them of pies at lunchtime), so a cheese platter was the order of the day. True to form, Brian asked the $64 question, “What are the cheeses on the platter tonight?"
As expected, he received the usual response. “I will go and check.” In short order, our "gentleman Jim” returned and advised, “That will be a blue, a brie, and a cheddar.”
Gee what a surprise! Brian asked the $128 question; what sort/brand.
“Excuse me please, I will just check something in the kitchen” was the response.
After a couple of minutes, “gentleman Jim” again returned and said, "The brie is a Heritage, and unfortunately we can't tell what the others are because the wrappers have come off and have been thrown out.”
Did we laugh! What a classic.
The boys decided to avoid the cheese platter and order something sweet instead. Although we had brought the reds with us, we looked at the wine list to see what sort of dessert wine was available. The Tim Adams 1998 Botrytis Semillon looked like it was going to be a good bet, so that's what we ordered. A few minutes later, “mine host” returned with a very sheepish expression upon his face. He apologised most profusely. Unfortunately someone else have a hide to order their last bottle at lunchtime. Didn't they know we were coming?
There wasn't a large choice of dessert wines on the wine list, but our host recommended the Olsen 2006 Late Harvest Riesling and if we didn't like it, we wouldn't have to pay for it. It was an interesting wine, on the uptake I thought it was a bit thin, but it actually had quite reasonable complexity and length. Unfortunately the wine had just been bottled, and reeked of sulphur, so we decided not to drink it.
For some strange reason, I'm not sure what we had for dessert because I forgot to record it. But I do remember that we all enjoyed whatever we ordered. I had the disgusting looking chocolate on the left, Brian had the mini pavlova like dish, and John must have been feeling unwell and going through a serious lack of withdrawal from pies, as his desert was healthy and consisted of a fruit compost with varying accompaniments. The food was most pleasurable and the service pleasantly comical but efficient. I would have no hesitation in returning.
It was a very quiet night in the restaurant, and there were not many tables occupied. However, at the closest table to us, was an “interesting couple." The guy was dressed in typical country clobber, moleskin trousers, boots, and a checked jacket. When he walked in, he certainly had a smile on his face and looked like he may have enjoyed a couple of belts before dinner. His "partner" was also interesting. She was well endowed, and her tan looked like it came out of a bottle, and the cleavage of the top ended somewhere near her ankles. They looked like a most unlikely couple.
Before dinner, the guy had a beer, and ordered both a bottle of red and a bottle of white. He certainly looked like he enjoyed a quite little drink.
When his starter arrived, Brian could not resist public comment. The guy had ordered a dozen oysters. Each was presented in a shot glass with what looked like vodka and tomato juice. Each glass was a different size, so the presentation was fascinating. Brian made a comment about his likely condition if those shot glasses contained any vodka, and we were soon involved in an interesting conversation with the couple.
I know why he ordered the oysters, but I think he would have needed significantly more than a dozen oysters (and a fat wallet) to make his friend happy.
It was fascinating to watch the entertainment at the next table.
That was the end of our night but the same thing could not necessarily be said for our new found friends.
It was a good day, some interesting wines, most good quality but nothing really great, but tomorrow is another day. We planned to finish with Clare and then move to the Barossa.
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