The 2007 South Australian Tour Diaries
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Chapter Three – Saturday - McLaren Vale
There was no point in getting out of bed at sparrows because Mark was sleeping on a mattress in the lounge room and I would not be able to get on to the Internet. Nevertheless, the house was a beehive of activity early. Today was the big day. John was not joining us on our winery tour as he had to help his daughter Hosanna move to her new flat. The place was buzzing with excitement, but even John was having difficulty trying to feign interest in the move, because let's face it, tasting wine is a hell of a lot more interesting than busting your back moving furniture.
........................Hosanna Davis - just before leaving home
His Pieship was kind enough to cook us breakfast, and it will come as no surprise to regular readers that it was bacon with freshly laid eggs. As is his wont, Brian avoided the eggs and just went for the bacon and toast. After saying goodbye to Hosanna, we headed out for our first appointment. Today was going to be a relatively easy day, there were lots of wineries I wanted to visit, but we only had a couple of appointments. Sue was kind enough to lend us her car, and we headed out at 8.45 am.
Hands up those who have heard of Thomas Vineyard Estate? (Not to be confused with Wayne Thomas, as both are in McLaren Vale.) Until about 12 months ago, I had never heard of them either. They dropped into my pet store one Saturday so that I could try their wines. Their two variations of 2004 Shiraz were both impressive, and one was sensational value. Anyone can get lucky and produce terrific wines in one vintage, but to do it consistently requires talent, and that is why I was looking forward to this visit. I wanted to see how their 2005’s stacked up, or ascertain if they had just been lucky in 2004.
When I received the directions, I was informed it was the last street on the left before the main South road. Brian was driving and we trundled along till we were at about 50 meters from the main road, and thought we must have missed the turnoff. Brian chucked a “youie” and we retraced our steps, turning into what we thought was the correct street. Only it wasn't! Being typical guys, when all else fails, but not until then, we pulled out the street directory. Doh! As they say in the modern classics. The street we were looking for was actually 49 meters past the point where we did a U-turn, and literally butted up to the main road. Brian decided we would go around the block. Only we had to go further than he had anticipated, because the street we had to get to was closed in the middle and we had to go all the way around.
When we arrived we were greeted by two gorgeous dogs; a Golden Retriever and a German Shepherd. Dawne and Merv Thomas came out to greet us too. Their story is an interesting one, so I will share it with you.
In her youth, Dawne was a swimming coach. She spent the summer in Australia, and then went to England to spend another summer over there. On one of her trips to the UK, she needed a part-time job and through a friend, got one working in a pub. That pub was owned by Merv Thomas. They took things slowly, and after 10 years of being together, finally tied the knot. That was 20 years ago.
They had been living in Sydney for some time and had decided they wanted to get out of the big smoke; McLaren Vale seemed like a good spot. On one of her trips there, Dawne found a farm that was going to auction a few days later. In a record time, Merv and Dawne did what was necessary, and a few days later secured the property. That was about 10 years ago. The next problem was what to do with it. They had no idea. Being a winegrowing area, someone had a brainwave and suggested that they plant Shiraz.
Merv did some research and thought it was a good idea too. Not wanting to dive in where angels fear to tread, he enrolled himself, as a mature age student, in a viticultural school. "Mature age" in this case was a euphemism for old geezer. He was not only old enough to be the father of most students attending the course; he was old enough to be their grandfather. However, being a mature student paid dividends and he got on extremely well with his teacher. One day the teacher told Merv the class was about to embark on a practical class project and, if possible, he would like Merv’s assistance. The teacher had decided that the class needed to learn how to plant a vineyard from start to finish and asked Merv if he knew of any land that was available for the project. Merv just happened to have about 15 acres that was suitable.
Since that time, Merv has been faithfully looking after the vines himself. The majority of the grapes were under contract to Southcorp (now Fosters,) but some of the production is kept back for their own use. They employ Trevor Tucker, a very experienced retired Penfolds winemaker, to make their wine.
Thomas Vineyard Estate 2005 McLaren Vale Shiraz sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under Diam. The bouquet shows intense, ripe fruit with spice, earthy notes and has excellent complexity. A well-balanced structure is provided by the pure, deep, strong fruit that is well-backed by loads of powdery tannins, and crisp acid. The palate shows plum, black cherry, chocolate, mocha, and cocoa flavours. It's savoury, and whilst the structure seems old-fashioned (in the nicest possible way,) it finishes with excellent persistence in a clean, modern fashion. It's a muscular-weight with a firm consistency, tight structure, and harmonious complexity; it is rated as (just) Highly Recommended with ***** for value and should reach its peak drinking window in 2011. One of the best value wines of the trip.
Thomas Vineyard Estate 2005 Reserve Shiraz will sell for $45 at cellar door, when they eventually decide to release it, and it is sealed under Diam. The bouquet is very tight and shows little except for vanillin oak. Backed by smooth, fine, powdery, drying tannins which supports the pure, deep fruit, this muscular-weight, supple wine is as tight as a bank vault, solid, and has a very agreeable complexity. Given its size, it also has a modicum of elegance and some class, but it demands time to soften. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2013 and beyond.
Although I did not taste it on this trip, I have included my tasting note for the previous vintage Reserve Shiraz, as there is still a small quantity left at cellar door and it is worth tracking down.
Thomas Vineyard Estate 2004 Reserve Shiraz June 06
The vineyard is planted with two Shiraz clones; John Glaetzer suggested that a section of the 1127 clone grapes should be isolated out and picked separately as the quality was significantly higher and warranted a reserve label. The grapes were basket pressed and matured in 100% French oak for fifteen months (14.5% alcohol.)
What a spoilt brat: well that's the impression you will get when you first sniff the wine; its sulking and brooding and shows little more than mulberry and spice, but the quality is immediately evident. Pure, deeply-seated, strong fruit drives the wine but it is solidly backed by smooth, fine, tight tannins and fresh acid; the balance and construction are excellent. A beautiful expression of fruit that is very savoury on the uptake; mulberry, cherry, chocolate, a big grind of white pepper, with blackberry and coffee oak on the tail, it finishes long and dry. A full-bodied wine that is still very tight and needs times, the complexity is well developed already; it's rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value and I would/will buy it without a second thought. Drink from 2011+, its $45 a bottle from cellar door. What a great first effort!
It looks like the 2004 was not a lucky accident. Given the vintage variation and conditions, the 2005 wines are perfectly credible. There McLaren Vale Shiraz is sensational value and over delivers big time, however if their Reserve Shiraz was five dollars a bottle cheaper, it would go from three stars to four stars for value.
We didn't have far to go to get to our next winery, Fox Creek Wines is just down the road. What can one say about Fox Creek that hasn't already been said before? This winery is one of the modern role models in McLaren Vale. Wine lovers from all over the world have heard about Fox Creek.
Creative Garden Ornaments at Fox Creek
Fox Creek Vixen sells for $22 at cellar door, or $19 to circle club members. Depending on the disgorgement, this label can be anything from very ordinary to terrific, so one never knows what to expect. The mouth-feel is attractive, it's better than many others. The palate shows loads of chocolate, and whilst it has a good level of sweetness, it's not confected. It's not exactly high-class, but a great summer quaffer that is very-easy drinking and worth buying. Rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Fox Creek 2004 JSM sells for $22 and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet was closed but did exude some earthy, dark, rich chocolate. Silky tannins provide an excellent mouth-feel in this medium-weight, supple wine with a well-developed complexity. Flavours of chocolate, cherry, lots of dried herbs, and violets complete the profile. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Fox Creek 2005 Short Row Shiraz has a recommended retail price of $28 but can usually be found for less; it is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows blackberry, milk chocolate and vanilla. The unobtrusive, fine tannins are silky and back the pure, strong, deeply-seated rich and ripe fruit that delivers plum and chocolate flavours. It's a muscular-weight wine with a soft consistency and harmonious complexity, however the acid is slightly tart on the finish but given time, it should soften. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value (based on the RRP), the wine is capable of short-term improvement.
The Reserve wines are normally not available for tasting but the young lass who was serving us was kind enough to make an executive decision and open them for us to review. Unfortunately the 2005 Reserve Merlot, which was sealed under screwcap was a defective bottle but we didn’t ask her to open another, merlot only gets one chance. ;-)
Fox Creek 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $36 and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows loads of dusty notes over bright, blackcurrant fruit. It's more approachable than many of the previous vintages, and that's due to the smooth, slightly powdery tannins which provide an attractive mouth-feel. This muscular-weight wine has a supple consistency, a tight, solid, elegant structure and is harmonious already. It's nowhere near the blockbuster of past vintages. Blackcurrant, mocha, and leafy notes finish dry. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window in about three years time.
Fox Creek 2006 Reserve Shiraz sells for $70 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet was closed but I was able to coax some blackberry, vanilla and milk chocolate from it. Pure, deeply-seated juicy-fruit is ripe and delivers the nicest possible spectrum of blackberry flavour, star anise, vanilla and chocolate. Backed by fine, smooth, powdery tannins, this muscular-weight wine has a supple consistency and whilst it was not showing much at the moment, the quality is evident. It is locked tight but it retains a modicum of elegance. Whilst it's approachable now, it will be better with at least another three years in the bottle. Rated as Excellent with ** for value.
Fox Creek continues to make some fine wine and most of them are reasonable value, but the Reserve Shiraz is now starting to push the price envelope. It will be interesting to see if this vintage sells out as quickly as previous ones.
Just a short drive from Fox Creek a new cellar door has just been established on McMurtrie Rd, but it's not a new player, it's a highly respected winery that over time has increasingly used McLaren Vale fruit in its wines, to the point that it now calls McLaren Vale home. The winery is Primo Estate. The winery was originally located in the middle of nowhere in the Adelaide Plains. The logic for this location at the time was sound; their fruit came from both Coonawarra and McLaren Vale, and the Plains is (sort of) between the two.
The top wines from Primo Estate have always been a class act, and not inexpensive, so it came as no surprise to find the building has as much class as the brand and no expense had been spared. The stone wall at the front is a work of art, and Lord knows how much the landscaping cost, but it wouldn't have been inexpensive. They even have what appears to be some expensively constructed undercover parking. Whilst that area will be used for undercover parking for most of the year, parking was not the primary motivation in building the structure. It has actually been built to houses the racks that hold the grapes which are dried in the Amarone style.
Tasting the entry-level wines is free, but if you wish to taste the more expensive wines, there is a fee involved. When we arrived, I handed over my TORBWine card, and explained my mission. I was then given the usual corporate line about the tasting order and the charge. I politely, but forcefully explained my mission again. With that, the person who greeted us went to find someone senior.
I started from scratch and explained my mission again, and received the same corporate line. This time I was extremely blunt, and stated that they could either let me taste the wines so I could review them, or I would be happy to leave. That finally got the desired response.
The winery also has a range of wines that are only available at cellar door.
Primo Estate 2004 Zambertain is a blend of Cabernet and Sangiovese that sells for $28 and is only available at cellar door; it is sealed under screwcap. The nose shows pleasant aromatics and whilst the palate is fruit-driven, it is well backed by smooth, powdery tannins. It's ample-weight with a supple consistency and can be drunk any time over the next five years. It has loads of fruit intensity which delivers blackcurrant, mocha, and cocoa flavours. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, fruit sluts will love this wine.
The wine is made in the ripasso method. After the juice has been pressed off from the grapes that have been used to make the Joseph Moda wine, the skins go into the partially fermented juice of this new wine to coferment. This process gives the wine some raisin-like characters, and it reduces the amount of green character that is often associated with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Primo Estate 2005 Shale Stone Shiraz is only available at cellar door and sells for $32; it is sealed under cork. The wine has great aromatics with perfumed spice and chocolate. Smooth, fine, powdery tannins are reasonably unobtrusive but provide a solid backing for the pure, deep, strong fruit. The palate shows spice, black cherry, and loads more spice, including white pepper and five spice characters; it lingers reasonably but there is not a lot of length on the back palate. That may improve as the wine ages. It has a harmonious, diverse complexity and is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, drink over the next five years.
Some of the fruit for this wine comes from the vineyard behind the new cellar door but the majority comes from their vineyard in Clarendon. The shale soil is the Clarendon component. The fruit for the Angels Galley also comes from Clarendon.
Joseph 2004 Angels Gulley sells for $55 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows delightful perfumed aromatics; it's classy and also shows five spice and plum. A strong, elemental construction has been cemented between the smooth, fine, dusty tannins and the pure, deeply-seated fruit. It's muscular-weight, solid and very tight; a complete wine needs time to show its best, and it should be long lived. Spice, vanilla, milk chocolate, plum, and dark chocolate finish with clean acid and with excellent length and persistence. Rated as Excellent with *** for value; drink from 2012.
Joseph 2004 Moda sells for $55 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is incredibly tight but shows bright and vibrant aromatics. This wine is more refined than previous vintages. A fine counterbalance has been achieved with the pure, deep, quality fruit and the ultra-fine and closely-knit, dusty tannins. Blackcurrant, blackberry, and multifaceted oak characteristics provide a harmonious, well developed complexity in this elegant and restrained wine. It's ample-weight now, but should fill out in time. This is the best Moda that I have tasted and is rated as Excellent with *** for value, but the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window in 2012 and beyond. It's a class act. I am glad I already have a six-pack in the cellar and Brian ordered a 6-pack from his favourite e-tailer as soon as he got back home.
Joseph 2000 Moda is a museum release, sells for $90 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is locked tight but does show leafy notes. Muscular-weight with a firm consistency, solid structure and well-developed complexity; the tannins are smooth and have integrated well. The palate shows juicy-fruit with minty, herbal characters, and blackcurrant flavours that finish with good length. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, drink over the next seven years.
Despite the initial difficulties at the start, the lady who looked after us was professional, friendly and knew her stuff. The tasting charge for these top wines is reasonable. They may only get four visitors a day that want to try them, and opening a fresh bottle every day is an expensive exercise, so it's either charge a small fee, or not have them available for tasting. For many people, if it’s a choice of paying a nominal charge or not having them available for tasting, many wine lovers will gladly pay a reasonable fee. However, one danger if this becomes common practice in Australia is the possibility of “US cellar door syndrome." In the United States, some cellar doors charge what Australians would regard as ludicrous amounts to taste very ordinary wine.
There are only around 750 dozen of the Moda available.
If you don't want to pay a small fee for tasting their top wines, using their bathrooms doesn't cost anything, but probably should! They are a work of art, and you could have a party in each one of them. They are state of the art; as you walk in the lights automatically turn on. The only thing that is not automatic is the backside wiping process; some things you just have to do yourself.
From start to finish, the image projected is quality and everything about the winery, including the wines, quality. When you are receiving quality, you don't mind paying reasonable prices for the product.
From there we headed into town to the Visitors Information Centre which also houses the Shingleback Cellar Door. I first visited this winery some years ago and was impressed with the quality of the wines tasted, and for some inexplicable reason it's taken me some time to get back for another visit. They were running a “buy two get one free” promotion on most of their lower cost wines, which made the price reasonably attractive. It's also a smart move in the Visitors Information Centre as people love a bargain, and will happily buy two bottles in order to get a third free.
Shingleback Black Bubbles Sparkling Shiraz sells for $29.95 and is sealed under cork. The nose is bright and lifted and dominated by blackberry. Ample-weight with a supple consistency and solid structure, it's a simple wine with intense, sweet blackberry, and mulberry, and whilst it is a tad sweet, it is fruit sweetness. At the buy two get one free price of $20 it is good value. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Shingleback 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $29.95 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows intense blackcurrant with meaty aspects and subtle spices. Fine, unobtrusive, silky tannins provide a supple consistency, and whilst the wine is tight, it is approaching seamless, and has a harmonious complexity. The fruit is not as generous as many of the other 04’s around, but it has good structure. Smooth and easy drinking, with blackberry, chocolate and five spice, it finishes very firm, but is still food friendly. Rated as Recommended with **** for value based on the 3 for the price of 2 deal.
............. .................More of Fox Creeks creative garden
Shingleback 2004 Shiraz sells for $29.95 and is sealed under cork. Spicy mushroom oak dominates the bouquet. The palate shows loads of oak tannins but there is plenty of black fruit flavours and red plum under the oak. Silky, drying tannins combine with fresh acid and pure fruit to form an ample-weight, supple wine that has a harmonious complexity. Rated as Recommended with *** for value based on the 3 for the price of 2 deal. Cellar it for a few years and the oak should be less prominent.
Shingleback 2004 The Gate sells for $37.45 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows intense blackberry with loads of quality, coffee and spicy oak. Fine, silky tannins combine with fresh acid to form a muscular-weight, well-made wine with a good mouth-feel. The flavour profile is intensely black but it finishes with some sappiness that detracts and makes the wine appear almost disjointed. Rated as Recommended with ** for value. Without the sappy character, the wine would have rated higher.
Shingleback 2004 D Block Reserve Shiraz is sealed under cork and sells for $59.95 at cellar door. The bouquet shows restrained fruit with spicy oak. It's sweet on the uptake, but quickly turns spicy, with rich plums and dark chocolate. It's a full-bodied wine with a supple consistency and incredibly tight structure. The initial impression was not particularly impressive but this is a cerebral wine that you need to concentrate on, or it could be easily dismissed. The silky tannins are long and pull the fruit through the palate very slowly resulting in a terrific finish that lingers for ages. The fruit is damn good, but it has loads of oak too. A very credible wine, it is rated as Excellent with *** for value; it would have been even better with less oak influence. Don't go near it until 2012.
Shingleback 2004 D Block Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is sealed under cork and sells for $59.95 at cellar door. The 2005 vintage of this wine won the 2006 Jimmy Watson Trophy which has given this label a lot of interest. The bouquet shows dusty, varietal notes together with spicy oak. The deeply-seated fruit is powerful and perfectly matched to the youthful acid, and smooth, dusty tannins. It's full-bodied with a firm consistency, a solid, tight structure, and a well developed, harmonious complexity. At present, it's locked up and showing five eighths of SFA except for its impeccable structure. The palate has intense blackberry, plum, pepper, coffee and five spice, all of which finish long and persistent. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, don't drink until at least 2012+. This was the best wine here.
They are not afraid to use spicy oak and these wines are not for the oak-a-phobic. They are all made in a modern style and sit attractively and the mouth. The retail flag-fall for the lower-priced wines is not great, but on the three-for-two deal they look sensible. The only problem with this strategy is that people who try them at the cellar door are not likely to buy them at retail at full price.
That time of the day had quickly arrived, and as far as I was concerned, it was not pie o'clock! Without the Pie King there, I was able to dictate where we would have lunch. Just up the road from the Visitors information Centre there is a service station and in the service station is a Subway “restaurant”. Hooray, at long last, a healthy sandwich at lunchtime. There is nothing like a toasted, foot-long wheat roll, with teriyaki chicken, a heap of healthy salad, and sweet onion sauce. It's filling, sustaining, and low-fat to boot. Brian had no idea what he was ordering, so he just said, "I'll have a half size version of what he’s having.” Smart man!
We then stopped at Koffee and Snax for a quick caffeine fix and then headed up to Coriole Vineyards. When we arrived, the place was jumping. There was a function of some sort going on. A large gathering of people were standing outside, eating, drinking and generally enjoying themselves. The cellar door was also popular, but I have no idea if it was from people who were attending the function and wanted to try the wines or if they were blow-ins like us.
Coriole 2006 Sangiovese sells for $18 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. We were informed the wine had been bottled three months ago, and that would explain why the nose was dominated by sulphur dioxide. A lean wine with a soft consistency, the tannins are velvety, and this inoffensive, easy-drinking wine is very food friendly. It's savoury with red cherry and blue fruit notes. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Coriole 2004 Dancing Fig is a Shiraz Mourvedre blend. Velvety tannins provide a supple consistency for this medium-weight, solid wine. The uptake has a very sweet hit that immediately turns savoury and leads into milk chocolate, but the wine finished slightly sour and bitter. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Coriole 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $25 at cellar door. The bouquet had lifted volatiles. The palate is intensely off sweet, almost sour on the uptake with blackcurrant and herb flavours. Just ample in weight, the consistency is supple and the complexity agreeable. It's backed by velvety, powdery, drying tannins but the fruit lacks intensity. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value it's easy-drinking but there is far better value around.
Coriole 2005 Shiraz sells for $25 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. An ample-weight, supple wine with a solid consistency, it is backed by powdery tannins and fresh acid, but the fruit lacks generosity and finishes a little sour. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Coriole 2004 Mary Kathleen Cabernet Merlot sells for $39 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. There is some class to this bouquet and it shows interesting oak nuances, milk chocolate, and mint on the back end. Fine, tight, silky tannins combine with fresh acid, and pure, deeply-seated fruit to form a well-structured, muscular-weight, firm, solid, tight and elegant wine. Cassis, dark berry flavours together with hints of herb and mint are attractive, but the wine needs time for the fruit to surface from below the tannins. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should enter its peak drinking window in around 2011.
Coriole 2005 Lloyds Reserve sells for $70 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is inky and intense with spicy cocoa, blackberry, vanilla and dark chocolate. A classic structure is provided by the ultra-fine, smooth tannins, crisp acid, and pure, deep, strong fruit. It sits pleasantly in the mouth. Loads of dark chocolate on the uptake with dark berry, cocoa, and vanilla flavours finish very long, intense and persistent. It's a full-bodied, solid, very tight, complete wine that just needs time. Rated as Excellent with *** for value; its peak drinking window should be around 2012 to 2018. At $70 it's pushing the price envelope. Brian used to buy this wine in most vintages, but this time he wasn't remotely tempted. (Brian: I was less impressed with this than Ric, it’s not on my buy list even at the $60 street price.) On this trip, there were many wines of this quality that were available for less.
Whilst the Lloyds and Mary Kathleen were both very credible wines, when it comes to the rest of the range that we tried, the words "lost" and "plot" comes to mind. I understand that recently Coriole has appointed a new winemaker, so hopefully things will improve.
Bruce Routley is a guy I know who lives in Sydney that has an enormous cellar. And by enormous, I mean enormous, so when Bruce recommends a wine, it's often worth trying. It was on his recommendation that I decided to visit Lloyd Brothers. The business is owned by David Lloyd, who is the son of the founder of Coriole. The property they own has been home to olive trees for over a hundred years. They now have thirty acres of Shiraz planted in McLaren Vale and also have a vineyard in the Adelaide Hills that grows a number of the cooler climate grape varieties.
For many years, Lloyd brothers were probably better known for their olive and olive oil products, than their wine. Their name shot to prominence with the 2006 McLaren Vale Wine Show where they won three trophies and two gold medals. There trophies were for the following:
Dry Red Still Wine 2005 Varietal Shiraz RRP less than $20.00 - 2005 Lloyd Brothers McLaren Vale Shiraz
Single Vineyard Wine Any Style - 2005 Lloyd Brothers White Chalk Shiraz
Single Vineyard Viticulturalist Trophy Any Style - David Lloyd of Lloyd Brothers Wines
Based on Bruce's recommendation and those trophies, I thought the place was worth checking out.
The cellar door is extremely modern, but reality shows there is a large emphasis given to olives and their by-products. The tasting bench was “interesting”, instead of being a waist height, it is at chest height and the lady serving as could just see over it. Apparently there were plans in place to modify it and reduce the height to a sensible level.
When I started tasting the wines, I couldn't believe how perfumed and aromatic the first wine was and made a comment about it. The lady serving us took a step back and said, "I just put hand cream on, so I had had better keep my hands away from you."
Lloyd Brothers 2004 Shiraz sells for $18 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The nose is inky black, and it comes across the palate with blackberry and milk chocolate together with dried herbs on the finish. Pure fruit is backed by fresh acid, and velvety, dusty, drying tannins; it’s an ample-weight wine that has a soft consistency, and almost seamless structure. It's very easy-drinking with good fruit generosity, but it's a little simple. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Lloyd Brothers 2005 Shiraz sells for $18 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. Remember, this wine won a trophy for the best dry red under $20 at the McLaren Vale Wine Show. The bouquet was reductive and unattractive. On the uptake, there was a reductive characteristic on the front palate and whilst it was only slight, it was noticeably off-putting; thankfully there was some pleasant plummy fruit also. It was an ample-weight wine with a soft consistency. When I asked our server if the wine was meant to be like that, without checking it, she said yes. I asked her if she had checked the wine that day, and she said yes. There was absolutely no possibility in her mind that the wine could be defective, so therefore it is rated as Acceptable with ** for value.
I should add that when I entered the premises, I gave her my card and told her the wines were being formally reviewed. After dropping a subtle hint about opening up the Reserve, which is normally not available for tasting, our server told me it was basically too valuable to open up at (costs $35 at CD) and with only 250 dozen produced, too rare.
I did notice on their website, as a selling point, the first line of the Shiraz entry reads, “5 STARS - DON'T BUY WINE WITHOUT ME- 2007 EDITION.” As I had never heard of the publication, I clicked through to see what it was all about. Here is what it says. "2004 was a very good year for McLaren Vale reds. I don't know if it was also good for olives, but this relatively unknown (okay, make that almost completely unknown) winery in McLaren Vale, apart from making terrific wines like this, also produces the best kalamata olives in Australia. Damn straight, best I've ever had, especially the ones in the chilli. And this is a damn straight Shiraz that is also terrific value. $18-20.”
Let me see if I have this right? The above is a recommendation for the wine. Besides saying that 2004 was a good vintage in the region, the only other positive comment is “….. this is a damn straight Shiraz that is also terrific value." To my way of thinking, that doesn't sound like a very credible recommendation; perhaps it was the best independent review they could find.
Based on this experience, if I went back to Lloyds Brothers, it would be to try the olives!
Our next port of call was at one of the quiet achievers in McLaren Vale, Maxwell Wines. Mark Maxwell quietly plugs away, sticking to his own knitting and continues to make credible wines at realistic prices. When we arrived, he was sitting in a tractor doing his own thing, so we got started without him until he found the message on his phone advising of our arrival. It didn't take long for him to front. The first wine was a new addition to the range, and when he told us what it was, I must admit I was sceptical.
Maxwell 2006 G & T sells for $18 at cellar door. The catchy name, to a certain extent is a play on words, as the wine is another one of those wacky blends, in this case Grenache and Tempranillo. The bouquet has lovely perfumed aromatics with red berry fruit and milk chocolate, together with hints spice; there are all sorts of other good things here too. It has been skilfully constructed with pure fruit, fresh acid, and fine, dusty tannins. It's medium-weight with a firm consistency, solid structure and is a very interesting and drinkable wine. It could be perfectly matched with either spicy food or olives. The bright fruit hits the palate sweet, and then goes savoury and moves into chocolate, whilst the tannins rip it down the palate for a long finish. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it's a steal at the price and foodies will love it. As our American friends would say, “it kicks ass.”
Maxwell 2005 KI Shiraz sells for $25 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. I'm beginning to think that I just don't understand wines that come from Kangaroo Island. I have yet to have one that does anything for me, and this was no exception. Pure fruit combines with lively acid and powdery tannins to form an ample-weight wine, with a supple consistency and solid structure. The palate has intense fruit showing blackberry and dark chocolate, but is too green for my liking. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Not one, not two, but three dogs at Maxwell! .......................................
Maxwell 2004 Ellen Street Shiraz sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows blackberry and char; it has a very dark profile. Very-ripe, pure, deeply-seated, juicy-fruit is supported by fresh acid and fine dusty tannins. The construction is harmonious and this ample-weight wine has a supple consistency and an agreeable complexity. The palate is better than the bouquet suggests with the addition of plum, and aniseed flavours, which finish dry and clean. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
Maxwell 2004 Lime Cave Shiraz sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is clean and bright and exudes pleasant aromatics with spearmint and dark fruit. The palate shows bright cassis, hints of spice and spearmint. Abundant, dusty, drying tannins combine with pure, deeply-seated fruit and youthful acid to form an ample-weight, solid and tight wine, that needs time for the fruit to surface. Don't pay any attention to the rating; the wine is better than it indicates. Rated as Recommended with *** for value; the rating is bound to improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window around 2011 and beyond.
The next new wine that Mark offered us was a Reserve Shiraz. Many wineries make reserve wines; unfortunately many are just an excuse to charge a whole lot more money for not much more quality. Through very vigorous fruit selection (hand selected and hand-picked grapes,) they started off with nine barrels. Three of them developed very well, but they didn't fit the right profile so they were declassified, and they were down to six barrels.
Maxwell 2005 Minotaur Reserve Shiraz sells for $75 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. Only a hundred dozen have been produced. The bouquet shows stately fruit with brooding, coffee oak. It would be hard to obtain better quality fruit; it's pure, deeply-seated, and strong, and finishes with wonderful persistence. It's full-bodied and backed by fresh, crisp acid and smooth, dusty tannins. Looking as schmick as Tom Cruise in its tuxedo, it will be long-lived. It is incredibly tight, layered and has a diverse complexity. The palate is fresh and vibrant, showing plum, spice, coffee, chocolate and Dutch cocoa powder flavours that finish clean, long and dry. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, it's a great result and the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2013 and beyond.
The final new wine that Mark showed us is designed to be a new fighting brand. The objective was to craft a drink now wine that over-delivered in terms of value, and the results speak for themselves.
Maxwell 2005 Silver Hammer Shiraz is made from McLaren Vale fruit and retails for $19 at cellar door. A fruit-driven wine with supporting fine, dusty tannins and fresh acid; it finishes crisp and dry. The fresh, bright and vibrant fruit delivers bumper amounts of black cherry, plum, black pepper and dark chocolate flavours. It's muscular-weight with a supple consistency; it is easy-drinking, solid and credible, with a huge amount of flavour for the dollar. Drink over the next four years, it's rated as Recommended with **** for value. This one will boot a few goals! (Yes, they do have permission to use the name.)
The house style of the three different offerings of Shiraz is 100% consistent. The flavour profile of the grapes is reasonably consistent; the winemaking is consistent, and the oak influence, given the different price points of the wines, is also consistent. That’s good winemaking!
Brian's parking is not much better than John's
The three new offerings have been extremely well thought out, and more importantly deliver the goods. The two lower-priced wines represent terrific value and will have great appeal in the under $20 market. The Minotaur Reserve Shiraz is stunning and with only a hundred dozen, they should have no trouble selling it.
We stopped at Tapestry and in the car park we noticed a minibus. When we got inside the winery, the good news was that it wasn't filled with a bunch of drunken football louts. The further good news was the ladies in question were, shall we say, very easy on the eyes. The bad news was that they had been bathing in perfume and trying to make sense of any wine in that environment would have been impossible. We left and headed out to Foggo Wines. Unfortunately Herb was not there, so I had to give Sandie a hard time, but she is used to us and can take it.
Foggo Black Myriah (FRS = Fizzy Red $hit or) Sparkling Shiraz sells for $30 and is sealed under cork. There is great, fresh fruit driving this wine and it is savoury on the uptake with a secondary level of sweetness below. It lingers on the palate very nicely. Don't think about it, just buy it. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, it's one of the best value Sparkling Shiraz around at this price point.
When we visited the winery this time last year, we tried the Black Myriah, was incredibly impressed with it and Brian and I purchased a dozen. Shortly after the wine arrived I tried a bottle and couldn't believe the difference between the sample I had tried at cellar door and the bottle I opened at home. I was convinced the bottle at home was a new disgorgement. It was so fresh it was though it was bottle the day before. When we were discussing this wine at cellar door, Sandie told me that it was the same batch, and the wine we had just tried was also part of that same batch. The bottle variation left me a little perplexed. Whilst we were there, we purchased a bottle to drink on the trip. Out of these two, the wine we tried at cellar door and the wine we took with us, the same thing happened. One was incredibly bright and fresh and required cellaring, and the other was more advanced.
I have no idea with if this is due to differences in corks, or something that happened on the bottling line, but the startling difference in freshness is a concern, as the correct drinking windows are in two completely different places. Still, I'm happy I have got five left in the cellar.
The Pie King's Home Office - Does the BBQ do meat pies? .........................
Foggo 2004 Cadenzia (Grenache) is sealed under cork. The bouquet showed a touch of VA together with fragrant fruit. It's sweet on the uptake with savoury undertones, but the finish is a little sour. It's ample-weight and backed by unobtrusive tannins, with fresh acid, and distinct fruit. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Foggo 2002 GSC is a Grenache, Shiraz and Cinsaut blend that sells for $25 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows subtle spice, plum and milk chocolate. The palate is a bit different to most. It's sweet on the uptake with savoury undertones and exhibits sour cherry, plum, spice and vanilla. It’s medium-weight and has an elegant structure. A very food-friendly wine, it should go well with pork or game. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Foggo 2004 Old Bush Vines Grenache sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is subtle but attractive with milk chocolate and floral characters. Fine, drying tannins provide a deceptively solid-structure for this medium-weight wine, that has a soft consistency. The flavour profile is interesting with violets, and milk chocolate; it's both sweet and off sweet at the same time. A very good example of Grenache, it's a cerebral wine that will take some brain cells to work out what makes it tick. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, I'm still seriously thinking about buying some.
Foggo 2004 Old Vine Shiraz sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is earthy, restrained, interesting, and also shows spicy oak. Drying, dusty tannins combine with lively acid and pure fruit to form a medium-weight, solid and firm wine. The bright, juicy-fruit delivers red berry spectrum flavours, which move into blue and dark spectrum berry fruit, and the lively acid supports a very dry, sour cherry finish. The fruit doesn't seem overly generous. Rated as Recommended with ** for value.
Foggo 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows perfumed, varietal Cabernet aromatics. The first thing that struck me about this wine was the overpowering level of drying, puckering tannins which swamp the delicate fruit flavours. It's a muscular-weight, solid, hard wine and finishes with a sharp green and sour edge. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value, this one looks like it missed the mark.
Foggo 2004 Herbertus Shiraz sells for $50 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The wine has a subtle, restrained, brooding bouquet; it shows blackberry and coffee. A well-constructed wine; it’s driven by pure, deep, fruit that is perfectly matched to fresh acid, and solidly backed by fine, drying tannins. Ample-weight with a harmonious complexity, it is tight, elegant, classy, restrained and built for the long haul. Red fruits, milk chocolate, plum and blackberry flavours complete the package. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, drink from 2012 and beyond.
We had mixed results at Foggo. The Grenache in particular was a very pleasant surprise. Unfortunately whilst trying to make a stylistic change and make their wines more elegant, something has been lost in the translation with a few of the wines, but given time no doubt they will get it right, and in the long-term, the wines will be all the better for it. The wines they have got right are terrific.
No one is immune to the Equine Influenza Out Break. This is the property next to Lloyd Brothers
Although it was getting late, we had time to do one more winery. Woodstock Winery is perfectly located as it is just down the road from the Pie King’s Vineyard. When we arrived, the majority of the seats had been taken; it looked like a couple of people had been there all day. It turned out they had been to many wineries over the day, and were feeling the full effects of not knowing what they were drinking. We were lucky enough to find two seats at one end of the bar.
Woodstock 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $22 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows intensely dusty Cabernet characters. The palate is a surprise and driven by bright and vibrant fruit that is well backed to drying, powdery tannins, and whilst it is sweet on the uptake, it has a sour, lively acid finish. Ample-weight with a supple consistency and agreeable complexity, it is rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Woodstock 2005 Shiraz sells for $22 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows hints of dusty cedar and multi-berry scented notes. It's ample-weight with a supple but slightly hard consistency, and an agreeable complexity. The tannins are fine, the fruit pure, and the acid is fresh. The palate delivers black fruit and oak flavours on the uptake, leading to dark chocolate on the mid-palate, but the wine has a sour finish. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value. (Brian: This bottle was similar to one I tasted recently along with the 2004, the 2004 seemed to be much better balanced and a much nicer wine than the 2005.)
Woodstock 2004 The Stocks Shiraz sells for $50 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The blackberry and plum fruit is dominated by coffee oak on the bouquet. Fine, powdery tannins combine with fresh acid, and pure fruit to form an ample-weight, solid, tight wine, that has a harmonious complexity. Flavours of coffee oak, blackberry, and black plums finish long. The fruit is dominated by the oak, and in the long term I am not sure which will win. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value (based on the recommended retail price, or *** for value based on the street special price of $38); drink after 2011.
During our time in McLaren Vale, one respected person in the industry (who shall remain nameless,) that has a better perspective of it than most, said, "Around here they refer to Fosters as the Titanic. The problem is that when it goes down, the vortex it creates takes a hell of a lot of people down with it.”
If Fosters find things tough in the wine business, so will everybody else.
It's always nice to go out on a high note, unfortunately that was not going to happen. It was back to the “empty nesters” place to see how they were faring after spending the day moving Hosanna’s furniture. I could immediately see that John had really enjoyed spending a Saturday moving furniture, when he could have been tasting wine. Not! Sue looked completely knackered. It sounded like hard work, and if you ever meet either one of them, don't mention the kid’s fridge.
It's just as well we had decided to go out for dinner. We had intended to go to Fino at Willunga, but they only allow one bottle of byo wine per table and weren’t interested in negotiating, even at $15per bottle corkage). John had another one of his brain waves, and decided we should go to Awganix Brassiere (pronounced “organics”). This time last year, John decided we should go to The Barn, and on reflection, after that recommendation, I should have banned him making suggestions for restaurants in McLaren Vale again. (Brian’s comment: To clarify, John had suggested another restaurant, but he picked up a copy of the menu for Awganix at the Information Centre and it looked interesting enough to make a booking, so we should all share the blame.)
The restaurant is contained in the Marienberg Wine facility. Given the changes of restaurant name and ownership over the years, I am not sure of the exact relationship between the winery and the restaurant, other than and they look like they are independently run. Although you can bring your own wine, and thank God we did, we decided to have a look at the wine list. To say it was pedestrian was an understatement. Here we are, in one of the greatest wine regions in Australia, and a region that is highly respected all around the world, and the wine list in one of the supposedly better restaurants in the area makes my local Chinese restaurant look sophisticated.
When we arrived, the place had been fully booked and there was a table of about 18 people who had obviously arrived shortly before we did. It would have made much more sense when we booked, if they would have asked us (and others) to arrive a half an hour later.
Something else that I found fascinating was that there were water glasses on every table, but not wine glasses, and it wasn't as though they had different glasses for red and white wine. The majority of diners actually did drink wine, so it makes more sense to have the wine glasses on the table when people arrive, rather than having to bring them when wine is ordered. It was just a little thing, but one of the many things that are indicative of the quality of the management of this restaurant.
Whilst we were waiting for our orders to be taken and then to the starters to arrive, we discussed the state of tourism in McLaren Vale. According to John, and he should know as he works for the local Council, they have spent a large bucket of money promoting tourism in the region. Unfortunately, like many small country towns, many of the local businesses are not doing their bit to maximise the tourist opportunities. Wine and food go together and in this region you have many fine wineries, yet there are very few good restaurants and the wine lists are generally abysmal.
Unfortunately, when I thought I was recording notes on the dinner, I was actually turning the recorder off, so all I have is two hours of background noise. However I can remember a few of the highlights, and low lights of the meal.
Sue was drinking organic tomato juice; it looks spectacular and it tasted even “much more betterer.” Two of our BYO were corked, so as we didn't have an overabundance of wine, I had a glass of the tomato juice with a shot of vodka, and it was bloody brilliant.
The four of us decided to all have the same starter (a mixed platter of organic dips, olives, sushi and seafood), so we ordered two platters to share. When the waitress took our order, she asked us if she could put them on one large plate for the table. When the food arrived, we were very surprised at how small a large platter can be. At $60, it didn't look great value. The scallops were gorgeous, but the prawns were almost cold. The "sushi" was not what I expected, and not even made with sticky rice. In fact the rice was somewhat hard and crunchy. There were several dollops of Greek/Lebanese-style dips to top the breads supplied, but the whole presentation was haphazard and looked even more of a mess when we had finished with (not finished) it.
Sue ordered a steak that was topped with prawns and a creamy mustard sauce. Sue is one of the easiest people to please in a restaurant, and rarely complains, but she sent her steak back as it had not been cooked as specified.
I ordered a plain steak, without the prawns and sauce and was wondering if I would be charged the full $32 for the dish, or if it would be reduced by a few dollars because I didn't have the prawns and the sauce. It wasn't a big deal, just an academic question in my mind. When the bill arrived, I had been charged the full amount. Brian’s kangaroo was cooked perfectly (rare), was reasonably tender, but a little let down but the accompanying sauce.
The waitresses tried very hard to be helpful and coped well with a couple of crumbly corks, but sitting there one could only but guess what sort of management issues they had with the running of the restaurant, and the kitchen in particular. The concepts and the ideas are good; unfortunately they failed to deliver the goods. The service was also a little slow, but in some ways that could be forgiven on a Saturday night. However, I won't be returning as I'm sure I can find better eating in the region.
We skipped dessert and headed for home. Sunday looked like it was going to be a fairly quiet day, but we did have to get up to the Barossa.
Stay tuned, the next Chapter will be up next week.
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From: Mike Pollard October 5 8.30am
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