The 2007 South Australian Tour Diaries
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Chapter Four – Sunday – To the Barossa
Today had promised to be a quiet, relaxing day. With only three appointments set, in theory this should have been an incredibly short chapter, however a couple of wineries I couldn't get to see sent me samples and they have been included in this chapter, which makes it a bit longer.
I was a boy scout once, around about the time Caesar was playing with Gaul, so I know the importance of being prepared and I had a few shots of espresso coffee before we left. I had designated Brian as my official bag carrier, but if I had left it up to him, my bags would still be in McLaren Vale. John was designated as the official driver, but Brian did 95% of the driving. We packed up the car and drove out three minutes early. Talk about being organised, I don't know what's got into these two guys, they may not carry out their assigned roles, but at least they have learnt to be on time.
We arrived at Hahndorf at exactly 9 o'clock. As you drive into Hahndorf (from the McLarenVale direction), on the left-hand side, just before the main road is a bakery. The place looks rundown and in need of a serious makeover, but from my perspective it has one redeeming feature. The poppy-seed Danish is one of the best in Australia, and as I only have the opportunity to eat there once a year if I'm lucky, I had two. His Pieship, being true to form ordered slices of pig with cackle berries. Brian hates cackle berries, so he had bacon, sausage and tomato.
My poppy-seed treats looked great, but I thought Brian's breakfast looked like somebody had suffered a nasty and painful accident, whilst John's looked like it was a reject from a porn movie. However we all enjoyed our selections. Brian had enough caffeine in his system (and remembered the coffee here from last year) so didn't have his usual short espresso, but I didn't want to let my caffeine level drop, so I ordered a short black. The machine was playing up and the first one served was like dishwater. The second one wasn't much better, so it was just as well I had a good caffeine fix before we left home. As we departed the bakery, as a gesture of goodwill because I couldn't get coffee, the owner presented me with a paper bag that contained another poppy-seed Danish. Just what I needed! Speaking about looking sick, you will feel that way too when you look at the next three pictures!
The first appointment was at Chain of Ponds and we arrived spot on time at 10 a.m. Although Chain of Ponds is located in the Adelaide Hills, it's not far out of the way when you are driving from McLaren Vale to the Barossa. Our host was Honi Dolling and he should get extra points for being there on a Sunday morning when no one else wanted to talk to us.
Last vintage they crushed eight hundred tonnes of their own fruit. As they only needed four hundred tonnes for their own wine, they easily sold off the other 400 tonnes, as there was a shortage of cool climate grapes and the Yarra Valley was screaming out for Pinot that was suitable to make sparkling wine. That certainly helps the cash flow.
The demand for Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris has apparently gone through the ceiling. Last season people were paying over $2,000 a ton.
Brian had forgotten to bring a cap and was determined to get a red one early on in the trip. He found exactly what he was looking for at Chain of Ponds, and when he put it on he said, "Now I feel complete." John's response was, "Yes and you are looking very attractive too." These guys are really starting to concern me.
The winery has too many labels, so a couple of them will be deleted from the range. They will then concentrate on the traditional varieties as well as the Italian ones.
The cellar door prices quoted are less 10% if purchases of one dozen or more are made.
Chain of Ponds 2004 Sangiovese sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is earthy, with chocolate notes, and blackberry; it's interesting. It’s spicy on the uptake with earthy flavours on the mid-palate and the sour cherry acid finish which is clean, is not unattractive. The wine is lean and has a silky consistency, and harmonious, uncomplicated complexity. A good food wine and an inoffensive, real crowd-pleaser; rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Chain of Ponds 2004 Nebbiolo sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows earthy, mushroom notes and blackberry. Unobtrusive tannins combine with pure fruit and fresh acid to form a lean-weight wine with a firm consistency, solid structure, and uncomplicated complexity. With sour cherry on the uptake, and milk chocolate on the mid-palate, it finishes clean and dry. Its inoffensive nature, lean weight and reasonable persistence of finish will prove popular with the masses. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Honi thought my comments about the Nebbiolo were a bit harsh, so he gave me the freshly opened the bottle to take away, saying that he thought the wine would look better once it had opened up and had the benefit of some air. I tried the wine early that evening, and didn't think it changed much, so my original comments stand.
Chain of Ponds 2004 Graves Gate Shiraz sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The wine is a blend of grapes grown in the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island. Silky, drying tannins combine with crisp acid, and pure, fruit to form an ample-weight wine with a very firm consistency and solid structure. Blackberry on the uptake, it finishes clean and dry but the wine has a touch of green fruit showing. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Now you know why they call it the Adelaide Hills! .........................
Chain of Ponds 2003 The Ledge retails for approximately $25 and is sealed under cork. Fifty-six percent of the fruit is sourced from the Adelaide Hills and forty-four percent from Blewitt Springs. The lifted aromatics are pleasant with spice, mocha, milk and dark chocolate scents. On the palate, the spicy mocha oak, blackcurrant and cherry flavours finish fresh, clean and dry. A good structure has been provided by the velvety, fine, dusty tannins which are well matched to the fresh acid and distinct fruit. An enjoyable drop with a great mouth-feel, it's an excellent result for the vintage and worth buying. Approachable now, it's rated as Recommended with **** for value, but the rating should improve as the wine matures.
Chain of Ponds 2002 Florence Vineyard retails for approximately $25 and is sealed under cork. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot from fruit grown on Kangaroo Island. The nose shows plums and leafy components which leads to a palate which exudes plum, violets, blackcurrant, and leafy mint characters that finish very dry. The fruit and tannins seem to be a bit out of whack with each other. Rated as Acceptable with ** for value.
Chain of Ponds 2004 The Amadeus Cabernet Sauvignon sells for approximately $30 on the street and is sealed under cork. An attractive, quality, broody nose leads to a palate of black cherry, blackcurrant, mocha, hints of leaf and spearmint. Smooth, silky, powdery, tightly-knit tannins provide excellent backing for this ample-weight, supple wine that has elegance, and a harmonious and well-developed complexity. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures.
Chain of Ponds 2005 the Cachet will sell for about $45 when it is eventually released; it's sealed under cork. The bouquet shows tight, perfumed aromatics with blue fruit notes and mocha oak. Silky tannins combine with fresh acid and pure fruit to form a restrained, medium-weight wine with a supple consistency that should become seamless in time. The complexity is both diverse and refined. Blueberry, mocha, sour cherry, high-tone blackberry, and vanillin notes, finish clean and dry. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should increase as the wine enters its peak drinking window in 2012 and beyond.
The wines seem to be a bit patchy on this visit, not as good as some of my previous encounters with this winery, although three of the wines are certainly well above average.
Wayne Dutschke is a winemaker I like to visit regularly and, as he is on the way into the Barossa, I had hoped to see him after Chain of Ponds. Unfortunately he was another one of the winemakers who were overseas during my visit, but he was kind enough to send me samples of the Dutschke Wines current offerings, so I have included them here as a “virtual winery visit”.
Wayne had not only sent me his still reds, he had been kind enough to include four bottles of fortified wines. Sometimes this is a tough job. I noticed a couple of new reds have been added to the range too.
Dutschke 2005 Willow Bend is a single vineyard wine that is sealed under screwcap and sells for $20 at cellar door. A blend of Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon; the VA blew off quickly to reveal an interesting bouquet showing coffee oak, plum, musk and mint/dried herbs. Tightly-knit, smooth, powdery tannins combine with fresh acid, and strong fruit, to form a medium-weight wine with a supple consistency, solid structure, and an agreeable complexity. With lots of flavour for the dollar, it's off-sweet on the uptake with abundant dried herbs through the mid-palate and a touch of sappiness on the finish. There is good intensity of fruit with black chocolate, plum, vanilla, more chocolate and mint. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value, drink now.
Sami enjoying one of daddies fortified wines
Dutschke 2005 Sami Cabernet Sauvignon is sealed under screwcap and sold for $30. The first release of this wine, and named after Wayne and Brenda's very cute daughter, the 200 dozen is already sold out. It is made from fruit sourced from their family owned St Jacobi block and a property in Langhorne Creek. The bouquet was brooding and dark, showing cedar, mocha and mint. An ample-weight wine with a supple consistency and agreeable level of complexity, it is backed by silky, powdery tannins but needs time for the fruit to fill out. Sour, black cherry on the uptake, together with tobacco leaf, mocha, chocolate, and lots of coffee oak characters, there is some fruit sweetness in a secondary layer. It's a good wine, but comes across more like a big red than a true varietal Cabernet. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, drink from 2010.
Dutschke 2005 GHR Shiraz sells for $25 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The first release of this wine, it comes from four vineyards on Gods Hill Road, which is where the winery is located. Even after five hours of air time, the bouquet was still tight but showed great fruit lurking below with milk chocolate, cedar, plum and nutmeg. The unobtrusive, smooth, silky tannins enable the wine to sit nicely in the mouth and provide a solid, linear structure. Ample-weight, the consistency is supple, approaching soft. The flavour profile is black, but not over-ripe, with blackberry, black coffee, plum and mushroom flavours; it finishes clean and lingers nicely. It's very fairly priced and certainly worth buying. Rated as Recommended with **** for value; drink over the next five years.
Dutschke 2005 St Jakobi Shiraz sells for $32 at cellar door, is a single vineyard wine, and is sealed with a Procork. The bouquet was tight, earthy and showed plum and some subtle but obvious spicy oak influence. A step up in quality over the GHR, it's credibly constructed with silky, unobtrusive, dusty tannins, together with fresh acid, and deeply-seated fruit. The palate profile which is mainly black shows coffee oak, mocha, black chocolate, and oregano flavours which finish crisp and clean. Ample-weight with a silky consistency and a solid, tight structure, the wine is already showing harmony and a little class. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, drink over the next seven years.
Dutschke 2005 Oscar Semmler Shiraz sells for $50 a bottle at cellar door and is sealed under Procork. The bouquet is serious and intense with sweet fruit, spicy oak and hints of menthol. The construction is exemplary with unobtrusive, smooth, silky, tight tannins, lively acid, and deeply-seated, strong fruit. The delightful fruit is currently slightly overshadowed by quality, coffee oak characters. Expressive plum, cherry, liquorice and dark chocolate flavours finish fresh, clean and dry, and with excellent persistence. A full-bodied, supple wine that is still tight; the complexity is sophisticated, and for my money, this is a beautiful wine and the best of the reds. Drink over the next 10 years; it is rated as Excellent with *** for value.
Dutschke 2005 Single Barrel Shiraz sells for $55 a bottle, is sealed under screwcap and is limited to one bottle per customer. What a great nose; it has intensely spicy-oak, floral-fruit aromatics, plum, and scents of wood shavings. I wanted to dive headfirst into the glass. Velvety tannins combine with fresh acid and pure, deep fruit to form a full-bodied wine with a supple consistency and harmonious structure. Whilst it needs time for the oak to be absorbed by the fruit, the palate shows plum, loads of coffee oak, dark cherry, vanilla, and dark chocolate; it's heading towards a black flavour profile. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, drink from 2010 to 2017.
Dutschke Sun Dried Shiraz (2007 blend) is sealed under screwcap and sells for $35 for a 375 ml bottle. The bouquet had lifted, neutral spirit that cleaned out the nasal passages to reveal ripe, expressive, raisined characters. The wine exudes a level of sweetness that is luscious, ripe and soft, and combines with crisp acid, and rich fruit, to form a muscular-weight wine with a velvety consistency. On the palate the fruit is raisined with liquorice, plum, and together with subtle, spicy coffee-oak on the tail, it finishes very-clean, long and dry. I love the style with its deep intensity, and whilst it is not inexpensive, it is worth it. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, it is lovely and fresh now but I actually think this wine will improve for about 5 years. I note that on the winemakers notes its states, "Most probably showing its best after 12 to 18 months in the bottle" but I disagree with that analysis. Time will tell who is right.
Dutschke The Tawny (2007 blend) sells for $35 for a 375 ml bottle and is sealed under screwcap. The average age of the base material is 22 years but there is some 30-year-old material in the blend. The bouquet shows rancio characteristics which jumped out of the glass as it was being poured, and as it opened up, sweet butterscotch emerged. It’s a medium-weight wine with a soft consistency, a powerful intensity, and an agreeable level of complexity. It retains a good level of fruit sweetness and the lively acid, which is noticeable, enables the wine to finish clean. Burnt butterscotch characters dominate the palate, but there is also cold green tea, and a malty taste. Whilst it is a good wine, it didn’t do it for me, but that is not unusual when it comes to Tawny (port styles.) Rated as Recommended with ** for value.
John dumpster diving for used water bottles to take home!..............
True! - It's a long story.....................................
Dutschke The Muscat (2007 blend) sells for $25 for a 375 ml bottle and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet initially didn't have a huge amount of complexity, and surprisingly, there were some unusual cedary characters dominating the fruitcake spices. An ample-weight wine with a silky consistency and well-developed complexity, it is driven by a mellow, sweet fruit. It's cleverly constructed and has a good mouth-feel. Raisins, fruitcake, coffee and dark honey flavours finish long with good intensity, with the drying tannins lingering and provide excellent support. It's deceptively good; almost elegant for the style. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, this is one of the rare occasions when I preferred the Musket to the Tokay.
Dutschke The Tokay (2007 blend) sells for $25 for a 375 ml bottle and is sealed under screwcap. When the wine was first opened there was a perfumed sandalwood-like character dominating the bouquet which was unusual; as it opened up it became very earthy with rancio characters emerging. The palate shows raisins, chocolate, burnt caramel, nutty toffee, and orange peel flavours that finish clean thanks to the crisp acid. The rich, almost delicate fruit is luscious. Ample-weight with a soft consistency and diverse complexity, there is less aged characters in this wine than I would have expected for the price, but it still very enjoyable. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
The Shiraz offerings show excellent winemaking consistency and house style. The Oscar Semmler is a knockout wine, and probably one of the best that Wayne has produced. I hope that over time, the flavour profile found in this wine, which has less overt oak dominance, allowing the fruit to shine, becomes the norm. The ripeness levels and resulting flavour profile on this wine is perfect.
Wayne has an industrial sized passion for fortified wine, something which is commendable. Whilst his fortified wines are well made, there is no substitute for aged material, but it takes time to develop that stock, unless you are fortunate enough, and have deep enough pockets to be able to purchase it. His fortified wines are enjoyable now, but no doubt they will be oh so much better by the time Sami is at his side, helping him to make the wine.
Whilst we were at the southern end of the Barossa, we thought we would do one or two wineries in the area. According to all available information, Charles Cimicky is meant to be open on Sunday, but when we got there the place was locked up tight. We had a look in the Halliday Companion and Tait Winery was meant to be open on the weekend, but when we got there it too was closed. We gave up and headed off to lunch.
Its almost the right colour for the Barossa! Would you be seen dead in it? Not me.
As we had to drive past Jacobs Creek, we stopped to return a corked bottle of their 1998 Limited Blend. Last year when I took a corked bottle back to the cellar door, the process was ludicrous and completely unsatisfactory. In the Tour Diary I gave the company a public bollocking because of the bureaucratic nonsense and hoops that had be jumped through, to get a bottle of wine replaced. Once that was published I received a wonderful e-mail from the company pointing out their system had broken down and they were not aware of it. In addition, they also promised that changes to the procedures had been put in place to ensure the replacement of defective bottles would go smoothly in the future. This was the chance to put it to the test, so I went in with John.
John told them this story. The person looking after John opened the bottle, took one sniff and agreed that it was badly tainted and grabbed the obligatory form that needed to be filled in. However, when they explained the process to John, they weren't filling out a form for the sake of bureaucracy; they take quality control bloody seriously and really want to know if there is a problem, so if at all possible it can be fixed. The lady disappeared to see if she could find a bottle of 98, but when she came back she apologised most profusely because there were no 98’s available. She asked if a 1999 would be acceptable. John was very happy with the exchange, and the process not only works, it works seamlessly. Well done Orlando/Jacobs Creek; it's much nicer to throw bouquets than brickbats.
There was one great thing about Cimicky and Tait being closed, it was a great excuse for avoiding lunch at the Lyndoch bakery. However the boys were most insistent that we have lunch there one day and I just knew I was going to have serious difficulty avoiding the place. The boys decided that they would Shanghai me to the Tanunda bakery instead. When we got there it was closed, that just broke my little heart. We headed back into Tanunda proper to the ice cream/sandwich shop which always makes good food. It still has the same owners that were there when I first visited many years ago. The quality of the food hasn't changed, even if the menu has, it’s still more than edible, and the same thing can't necessarily be said about some of the pie shops that these two reprobates have dragged me into.
The prices are very reasonable, it cost all of $14.05 for lunch for the three of us, and that included soft drinks. No prize for guessing what the boys ate, more (expletive deleted) meat pies. I had a hot turkey and avocado roll with other good stuff. Way better than any normal meat pie.
I needed a new book to read and so did Brian, so I asked the lady in the sandwich shop if there were any bookshops in town. Her effusive response made me wonder if she had shares in the joint that she was recommending; she couldn't stop raving about it. We walked into the Ravens Parlour Bookstore and whilst it seemed to be fairly dimly lit, it had an esoteric selection. The bookshelves were crammed, and in many cases you had to move the book in front to view the titles on the spines of the half a dozen books that were hidden behind it. The lady who owns the place is an absolute treasure. What she doesn't know about the books in her store is not worth knowing. She asked us what sort of books we liked, and continued to ask more questions to narrow down the search for a suitable book, and could not have been more helpful. She went through book after book after book with the sort of genuine enthusiasm that is extremely difficult to find. Both Brian and I bought two! She was an absolute gem.
Up until somebody sent me an e-mail suggesting I check them out, I had never heard of Jamabro Wines. The winery is owned by David and Juli Heinze. Their property is located a little south of Seppeltsfield. The winery is within spitting distance of their house, literally. When we arrived, we were shown into the winery and got acquainted.
David is a sixth generation grower and their own property has 60 acres under vines, and they also manage another 40 acres of vines.
I asked David how and why he found himself in the winemaking business.
He responded, "The why was probably first. As you are well aware, the industry has been going through some very tough times. The wineries were using every excuse under the sun to try and buy grapes cheaply. In many cases it was below the cost of production. We couldn't survive like that, and it got to the stage where I asked myself, am I just another crappy grape grower, or what? We started mucking around in 2003 by making a little bit for ourselves at a friend's place, and it didn't turn out too badly.
In 2004, we were happy with the wines we made. In 2005 I decided I couldn't deliver my fruit for the price the wineries were prepared to pay and stay in business. We have since found out there is nothing wrong with our fruit. They are just using every excuse under the sun to try and pay us less. I think this is going to come back and bite the large companies badly as a lot of small growers start making their own labels.
2005 was our first major release. In 2006, we added the two whites. We also made the decision to spend the money here and build our own winery, rather than paying a contract processor.
I'll be honest, I don't have any formal qualifications in winemaking but I did grow up in my grandfather's winery in the late 1960s. Today, my good friend Damien Tscharke is assisting me, and is our consultant winemaker. He hasn't taken the reins and driven it, he offers me advice. He normally asks me what sort of style I want, and we go from there. Damien helps me with the technical side but I do all the hands-on work. I've learnt a hell of a lot from him, but he hasn't taken over the ship and driven it.
In 2003 we made enough to keep the family happy. In 2004 were increase it to a palate, and in 2005 we did about 16 tonnes. In 2006 we did approximately 35 tonnes (approximately 2900 cases.) In 2007, there wasn't much fruit around, and the larger wineries came crawling back wanting grapes, and whilst I sold more than I wanted to, it was good for cash flow.”
One of the things I see with large wineries is they don't get the best quality fruit because in many cases they are telling us to pick based on their schedule, rather than obtaining optimal ripeness. The quantity of our fruit is a drop in their ocean, but by picking our fruit for our own wine when it has reached optimal ripeness, rather than on picking based on a schedule, we are getting better quality fruit from the same block.
David feels that the wine shows are of critical importance to his long-term success. He wants to make enough of each wine for them to qualify to be entered in the wine shows. He went on to say, "As far as I'm concerned, we get a mixed result. It depends on which judge, what day and what side of the bed they got out of, and all that sort of thing."
I noticed in the media-pack they gave me, three of their 2005 wines received bronze medals at the Boutique Wine Awards in Sydney and their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was awarded five stars in Winestate Magazine. If they want to rely on medals to move their wine, they will have to do better than bronze.
David has a simple philosophy in his winemaking style. He doesn't like the oak to be dominant and prefers the wine to be fruit driven, but to still have nice oak complexity behind it. They are using primarily French oak.
They don't have a cellar door yet, although they eventually planned to open one. Most of their sales are currently via the Internet. In terms of export, they went to a seminar recently and came away thinking that Singapore looks like it could be interesting.
All the wines tasted were between 15.5 and 16% alcohol. Naturally, all the wines are made from 100% estate fruit.
Jamabro 2005 Grenache sells for $25 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. It has a big, fruit-driven bouquet with multidimensional berry characters. A good-quality wine, it is backed by silky tannins and driven by pure fruit. The blackberry, abundant dark chocolate, with bitter chocolate on the back palate, finishes clean and fresh. It's a medium-weight, firm, solid and tight wine that shows some restraint. There is a huge amount of flavour intensity for the fruit weight, and it finishes with excellent persistence. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, it's an excellent effort for a new producer.
Would you believe it? The Pie King takes a tea pot with him when
he stays at the honeymoon suite of the Tanunda Pub - no joke!
Jamabro 2004 The Chook Shed Shiraz sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed with a cork. With the next vintage of this wine, there may need to be a name change due to a naming conflict with another winery. The bouquet shows blackberry and some minor, but noticeable, reductive character. The velvety tannins provide a terrific mouth-feel. Blackberry, dark chocolate and sappy green tannins together with a slight reductive character, shows on the palate. The wine is ample-weight, with a supple consistency, and solid structure that finishes fresh. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Jamabro 2005 Mum’s Spade Shiraz sells for $25 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The fruit came from a different block to the previous wine, and it is a step up in quality. Approximately hundred dozen have been made. The bouquet shows vibrant, bright fruit that is sweet; cedar sawdust is dominated by plums and there is a hint of all of olive tamponade too. Driven by pure, deeply-seated fruit and backed by unobtrusive, velvety tannins this ample-weight wine has a soft consistency and is harmonious. The palate shows red plum, chocolate, blackberry, and herbaceous characters, but the wine lacks mid-palate weight and backend length. A very-easy, fruit-forward wine that will go well with a hearty food; it is rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Jamabro 2005 PT Shiraz sells for $40 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows quality fruit with ripe aromas of mulberry/boysenberry and cedar. Backed by fine, smooth, powdery tannins this wine is driven by pure, deeply-seated fruit, has a supple consistency, and harmonious complexity. The palate shows mulberry, 80% dark chocolate, oregano, and vanilla oak flavours that finish with good persistence and reasonable length (but could be longer.) It would be perfect with food that has a chilli influence. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
Jamabro 2005 “Cabulous” Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is intensely dusty with varietal, leafy characters. Ample-weight with a supple consistency and a solid, tight structure, the complexity is harmonious. An excellent structure has been achieved by the smooth, fine tannins and pure, deep fruit that is very-ripe and delivers blackcurrant, leafy notes, lots of cassis and 80% bitter chocolate; it finishes bright, clean and long. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating may improve as the wine reaches its optimal drinking window in about three years from now. This is the best wine in their range.
Towards the end of the tasting, David said, “The best thing to do is to get it right in the vineyard. So far, it's all been fun; sure it's been a challenge but it's something we can call our own. A lot of the design work and marketing has been done by Juli. I am not good at that area, and that was her forte when she was working full-time, before she gave her life away to have some kids, but neither of us would have it any other way.”
Opening up a winery and making 3,000 cases of wine a year in the current climate, in the immortal words of Sir Humphrey Appleby, is "a brave move Minister,” but when times get tough, the tough get going. Whether these guys are tough enough to make it in the long-term, only time will tell, but you have to admire anyone who has the intestinal fortitude to take the risk.
Whilst we were on our way to our next appointment, John told us a one-liner. "I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think I can get there, as long as it doesn't cave in first, or is it a train coming to get me?” I guess that's probably a little bit how David and Juli must be feeling.
Our next stop was at Chateau Tanunda. Our motivation was not to try their produce, but to meet Tim Smith, their winemaker and to try a couple of his own brand, Tim Smith Wines. Unfortunately Tim did not get the e-mail advising that we were coming on Sunday afternoon at around three o'clock so he wasn't there. Luckily he lives close by, and in his own words, "I live two minutes walk away, that's why I drove."
Much of the conversation we had with Tim revolves around cork and closure issues, but those comments will be posted in a story devoted to wine closures.
Tim Smith 2005 Shiraz sells for $32 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. What a sexy nose! It's incredibly perfumed with hints of cedar. The palate shows loads of everything; plum, mulberry, hints of bourbon and is sarsaparilla, it finishes clean and with bright acid. Driven by pure, deep, strong fruit, the oak is also evident on the palate, and this full-bodied wine is solidly supported by smooth, velvety, powdery tannins. The complexity is harmonious and whilst the wine is approachable now, it should get better with time. It's a show-pony but yummo. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2020.
Tim Smith 2005 TSW Shiraz sells for $65 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The wine has spent two years in new French oak and only 70 cases have been produced. It's unfiltered an unfined. Spicy oak dominates the bouquet of this brooding monster, together with coffee. The palate is black through and through with blackberry, bourbon/tar, liquorice, cellar black cherry and dried herb flavours that finish long, intense and linger for ages. Pure, deeply-seated, strong fruit combines with ultra-fine, tightly-knit, dusty tannins, and crisp acid to form a full-bodied wine that is still in nappies. There is a ship load of oak but enough fruit to eventually absorb it. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, drink from 2015, it will be long-lived.
Both of these wines are more than credible, they are damn good. If you haven't tried any of his wines, they are worth tracking down. As well as the wines we tried, Tim makes an Adelaide Hills Viognier (which he tried to force me to drink) as well as an MGS blend. I have reviewed the MGS previously, and it was also a very drinkable drop.
One of the small producers that have caught my attention is Smallfry Wines. Wayne Ahrens is the man behind the winery. The name is quite apt as they don't wish to take the world by storm and build a huge enterprise. Wayne is committed to producing small parcels of wine with a hands-on approach. The cellar door is actually located in an old bank building in Angaston and he sources fruit from both the Barossa Valley and the Eden Valley.
Although I didn't visit him on this trip, as I had three of his latest offerings, I thought I would include them in the tour diary at this point.
Smallfry 2007 Tempranillo Grenache sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. Only a very small parcel of this wine was produced as it was an experiment to see if the blend would be viable. The wine has seen no oak. The bouquet shows bright floral characters with milk chocolate and strawberry. Unobtrusive, smooth, chalky tannins combine with lively acid and obvious fruit to form a wine that is just ample in weight, with a supple consistency, and diverse complexity. With red fruit on the uptake together with chocolate; loads of dried herbs permeate the mid-palate, and the wine finishes with blackberry and subtle hints of black pepper. It's incredibly difficult to judge a red wine that is only a few months old, even if it has not seen oak; luckily I had the opportunity to look at it over 24 hours, which should give me a reasonable handle on it. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value, the rating should probably improve as the wine has a chance to settle down. A word of caution, if you are going to try one of these, make sure you decant it for many hours, as it took a long time to show its stuff.
Smallfry 2006 Eden Valley Shiraz will sells for $28 at cellar door when it is released in April 2008 and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet has a very unusual profile and initially exuded some plastic band aid type characters and coffee oak. It took six hours for the wine to start showing its true character, and by that stage the plastic band aid aroma had completely disappeared. Backed by smooth, powdery, unobtrusive tannins together with fresh acid, the fruit does not have a lot of generosity but to its credit, still manages to finish with good length and persistence. It's an elegant, tight, medium-weight wine with a supple consistency and an agreeable complexity. The palate shows plum, chocolate, blackberry, char, mint and finishes with shower sour cherry and clean acid. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, by the time the wine is released it could better.
Smallfry 2006 Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon will sells for $28 at cellar door when it is released in April 2008 and is sealed under screwcap. This was my favourite wine in the line up. Initially the bouquet showed a lot of similarity to the Shiraz, including the plastic band aid notes, but after some hours it completely changed. It was 100% varietal Cabernet. A medium-weight, elegant, firm and solid wine that is still tight, and yet it is remarkably easy to drink. The distinctive, varietal fruit combines with fresh acid and is well backed by unobtrusive tannins. It's sweet on the uptake with cassis, red cherry and dried herbs on the finish. It's a good wine that needs time and is rated as Recommended with *** for value; by 2011 when it enters its peak drinking window it may look a lot better.
Whilst I was doing the final edit on this chapter, I thought I would include two very good wines that I had received samples from that came from a Barossa producer. Flaxman Wines is a winery that I must visit one day, the samples they have sent me have always been spot on.
The vines are dry grown, hand pruned, and hand-picked. The cropping level is approximately 1 1/2 tons to the acre, so they certainly looking for quality. That's about all I am going to say about them in this Tour Diary, as I will definitely visit them and give you the full story later.
A couple of very scary looking dudes
Flaxman Wines 2005 Shiraz sells for $45 to mail order customers and is sealed under screwcap. It was matured in French oak for 24 months and was sourced from 50-year-old vines. The bouquet was intensely brooding and dark, even after six hours of airtime it's showed little more than sweet and off-sweet nuances with spicy nutmeg oak. A full-bodied wine; it is backed by silky, chalky tannins that are well matched to the pure, deeply-seated fruit, and lively acid. Mocha, lots of chocolate, black cherry, coffee, and plenty of plum flavours finish clean, zippy, dry and long. The sweet flavour profile is contrasted by spice. The wine is ultra-tight and if you are going to drink it soon, decant about eight hours in advance, but better still, leave it in the cellar until about 2013, by which time it should rate as Excellent with *** for value. It's a good quality drop and worthy of consideration.
Flaxman Wines 2006 The Stranger sells for $35 to mail order customers and is sealed with a screwcap. The wine is made up of 62% Barossa Shiraz which spent 15 months in American oak, and 38% Eden Valley Cabernet which spent 15 months in French oak. The bouquet showed lifted menthol and mint, coffee, cedar and black fruits. Barely ample in weight, the consistency is supple and the wine is backed by silky tannins that sneak up on you; they are well matched to the pure, deeply-seated fruit. Cherry, tar, cigar box, herbs, mocha, mint and milk chocolate flavours are primarily off-sweet and finish with very good length and persistence. A refined, harmonious wine that is still in nappies, I thoroughly enjoyed drinking it over two nights, and it is a very food-friendly wine, even going with a seafood salad. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should increase as the wine reaches its peak drinking period around 2015.
Back to normal transmission! What a slack day, and whilst I admit that I enjoyed the slow pace for a change, it's certainly not something I would like to do often. We didn't taste anywhere near enough wine to keep me happy.
His Pieship had elected to stay in the honeymoon suite at the Tanunda Hotel again. After all these years, I really am starting to wonder about his true motivation for staying there, when he could be staying at the Weintal like Brian and I do. It can't be the money, it's only about $10 a night cheaper than our motel, and Brian and I each have our own bathroom, rather than having to share one at the end of the landing. The way he is starting to talk about the barmaid makes me wonder if he is having more than “a cleansing ale” before bed.
We had decided to go to the 1918 Restaurant in Tanunda for dinner. Given our luck, or lack thereof, the previous night with two corked bottles of wine, we weren't taking any chances and took a couple of backups. Brian dropped me off with the wine, went to park the car, and got back a few minutes later. For a Sunday night, there were quite a few people eating in the restaurant. The background music was anything but background; we had to yell to make ourselves heard.
We started off with a bottle Foggo Black Myriah. The wine was delightful, but it was certainly a lot more advanced than the bottle we had tried at cellar door recently. His Pieship finally walked in with a huge smile on his face, as though he had won the lottery and said, "I've had a few beers brother." Doh – you don’t say! Five minutes later, he got up to go to the toilet, a place he has been to on a number of occasions in this restaurant, and promptly walked into the manager's office. A few beers?
For a starter I decided to order the caramelised pork belly with Asian greens, crab and pork dumpling, and braised pork hock with shiitake mushrooms demitasse. I think that's a complicated a way of saying pig’s belly, green stuff, a pig n’ fish dumpling and pork soup.
The demitasse of pork soup was incredibly salty, but boy was it tasty! My pork belly was cooked to perfection with crisp crackling, the majority of the fat had been rendered off, and the meat was fall-apart soft, and infused with loads of flavour.
Brian had the same starter. Mine was perfect but unfortunately his wasn't. The bottom of his pork belly was burnt. At $18 a starter, that's not great. Brian said it was “Porklle variation” - just like bottle variation only a different theme.
The service was fast and efficient, and the starters came out very quickly, which was appreciated.
The next bottle of wine opened was the Jacobs Creek 1999 Limited blend which was the replacement bottle for the corked 1998 that he opened up the previous evening. We did not believe it. It was corked too; even worse than the previous bottle. Despite John's "happy state of mind,” he was not happy about this bottle. He is doing really well, the last four bottles he has brought for dinner have been corked. My worst experience is three in a row, and that is bad enough, but this must be getting close to a record.
We opened up a Barberesco 1999 Montestefano. The nose was slightly muted but showed some slightly oxidative handling characters, but the palate was okay. The copious quantities of fine tannins supported a very-long, crisp, drying finish. The palate showed milk chocolate and mocha flavours and a bitumen type character on the side of the palate. As it opened, lots of dark chocolate emerged. The tannins are closely knit and tight, so this wine still has a long way to go and is currently rated as Rated as Highly Recommended. By the time we got to the end of the wine, some beautiful, sweet fruit was starting to emerge.
I ask John why he liked staying at the pub. He dropped his head for a moment in deep thought (or possibly it was hard to think in an alcoholic stupor) and philosophically raised his head and said, "I like the smell of beer. (Pregnant pause) I like the smell of smoke. (Pregnant pause) I like the smell of sweat.” And as quick as a shot Brian replied, "And that's just on the girls." An evil gleam came into John's eye and he said, "Especially on the girls."
John had linguini with prawns and shaved parmesan together with zucchini and lots of other good looking things. It certainly looked delicious. Brian ordered a steak and was happy with it; it was cooked rare, and tasty.
For the main course, I ordered the special fish of the day which was Barramundi. Firstly, the serving was ridiculously small, and secondly, the bottom of one piece was burnt to a crisp, so badly that even the side was burnt. Any chef who misses something so obvious needs a seeing-eye dog. They offered to cook me another one, but after eating half of it I had lost interest. The waiter was very attentive and tried to do everything possible to rectify the situation.
We asked the usual cheese question, i.e. what sort of cheese do you have, and expected the usual answer of a brie, a blue and a Cheddar. We got the usual answer, but this time the waiter actually knew a little about what he was serving. There was a Somerset cheddar, the blue was from Gippsland, etc. Forget the cheese; they had crepes on the menu. I ordered the caramelised apple and hazelnut butter crepes, with cinnamon and quince parfait, and apple crisps. This desert was stunning. My pie munching, beer-swilling, unemployable assistants ordered a cheese plate. About as predictable as the Pope going to mass!
Two good looking dishes! I have no idea who she is but she stuck her head out for me to photograph.
The waiter was kind enough to bring us a complimentary plate of handmade chocolates, and I wasn't charged for the fish.
Around the time we were having chocolates, John received a text message from his daughter asking why he hadn't rung Sue that evening. John told us that he didn't want Sue to know about his current condition, but given the text message, he had better call her. He quietly got up from the table and went outside to make the call, returning about one minute later. He said, "I think I'm out of trouble and I have got away with it. She didn't answer the phone."
John, I hate to tell you this, you haven't gotten away with it, because it's all written here for Sue to see.
John then popped one of the chocolates into his mouth and said, "There is a party in my mouth and everyone is invited to attend."
And with that comment I will close this chapter.
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Feel free to submit your comments!
From: Michael Horstmann October 24
As usual I enjoyed the new chapter of your tour diary.
Just wondered where the 1999 Barbareco "Santo Stefano" came from or to be more precise from which winery? Produttori , I presume.
Keep up your good work
I emailed the Pie King as he bought the wine and
eventually got this response. "In answer to this guy - no idea. I just bought
the stuff from Anthony? (Boccaccio)"
Absolutely typical Pie King answer!
From: David November 21
I'm enjoying your diaries as usual. Great work.
One possible correction though... when you talk about the Dutschke 2000 GHR Shiraz, did you mean to write 2005 instead?
Very good pickup, which is more than I can say for Brian who missed it when proof reading, and Wayne who was asked to let me know if there were "any factual inaccuracies that need fixing."
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