From Avoca in the Pyrenees to Bendigo is 161 kilometres (according to this handy little trip planner) but prior to setting out it was time for lunch. From the picture you can see where I had lunch but where was The Meat Pie King of South Australia when you need him most? Does he even know about this place? Needless to say, as John wasn’t there, not having a pie was easy and they do a credible sandwich.
My first intended stop was Harcourt Valley winery in Harcourt but due to the lack of winery direction signs when I hit the Calder Highway at Harcourt, I missed it. So it was on up the road to the next stop, Chateau Leamon. My mate Brian (aka Red Bigot) is a big fan of this winery and buys their (the Reserves at least) year in and year out. On his recommendation I once bought a six pack of their Reserve Shiraz, kept it for a few years, tried one, didn’t like it and auctioned the rest and never tried it again. However Brian normally has good taste so it was worth another try.
The vineyard was established in 1973 and the first vintage was in 1977 so the vines have a good bit of age. The place looks like not much has changed since the 1970’s and it’s a bit old fashioned but they sensibly work on the principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it”. When I called in, Ian Leamon had taken the weekend off and had left the cellar door in a friend’s care. The person looking after things obvious likes wine but doesn’t know a whole lot about it however he was as helpful as he was able to be and extremely friendly. Under circumstances like that you don’t mind talking to someone who isn’t as wine knowledgeable as perhaps they could be when left in charge of a winery.
Chateau Leamon 2002 Shiraz sells for $22 at CD. Dark purple in colour with a bright hue the pepper and spice literally bounced out of the glass as the wine was poured; there were also earthy nuances and lemony vanilla oak characters (bad pun not intended). Pure obvious fruit combines with the fine dusty tannins to produce an ample weight wine with a solid layered structure and somewhat diverse, well developed complexity that needs time to come together. Rich and ripe, it’s sweet on the uptake then intensely savoury with a lengthy finish. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as it matures around 2008.
Chateau Leamon 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $22 at CD. A fresh bottle was opened so the aroma was difficult to judge but there was some primary dusty oak with obvious quality fruit lurking below the surface. The pure deep fruit is intensely savoury and beautifully ripe showing blackcurrant, white pepper and chocolate which is very attractive but not exactly a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon profile. Smooth, slightly powdery, fine drying tannins provide a solid backbone and this ample weight wine is approachable now, indeed lovely and will get better as it approaches it’s peak in 2008+. Rated as Recommended (now) with *** for value.
Chateau Leamon 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $38 at CD. A little VA, intense black fruit and you just know this will be a powerful wine. The structural components are interesting with drying, fine, chewy tannins, crisp fresh acid and pure deep strong fruit which combine to form a well constructed and balanced wine of ample weight that’s intensely powerful and full of flavour without being heavy weight. A high quality wine with some refinement and elegance but it's not wimpy and the blackberry, blackcurrant, loads of chocolate on the mid palate, liquorice and mint finishes with terrific length and begs another taste. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value it should be consumed in 2008 and beyond.
The 2001 Reserve Shiraz was sold out but the gentleman behind the counter was kind enough to rummage through the cellar and find a bottle of the 2002 vintage (which will be released in March) for me to try.
Chateau Leamon 2002 Reserve Shiraz should be in the low to mid $40 bracket. Fantastic complexity from the first sniff of the freshly opened bottle, black berry fruit, spice, white pepper and oak influence with both coffee and vanilla. Ample weight, a well constructed wine with fine smooth powdery tannins providing a firm but supple consistency, the structure is both elegant and layered with a refined complexity. Sweet multiple berry fruit, pepper, aniseed, chocolate and mint fill the mouth in layers of flavour and finish forever; a lovely wine with marvellous power. It’s a joy to drink but and whilst its approachable now its still a baby and will be a whole lot better near the end of the decade. An impressive wine, its rated as Excellent with **** for value.
The visit to this winery (and Summerfield) shows the value of giving a winery another go, in both cases the results were impressive and the visit was worthwhile. Chateau Leamon’s whole range was well made, good, honest wine and reasonable value. “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it” is certainly working here.
Ever heard of Eppalock Ridge? I wasn’t familiar with it but had seen some positive reports about the winery on a number of wine forums so decided to track them down. They purchased the 4 acre Heathcote property in 1979 and the vineyard is planted to Shiraz and Merlot. The additional fruit, including Cabernet Sauvignon, for their wines is sourced from 32.5 acres of neighbouring vineyards. Rod completed his apprenticeship at D’Arenberg and then worked vintages for Pirramimma and Coriole, while attending courses run by Brian Croser. Annual output is capped at 1500 cases.
The winery is located in Heathcote but I met Rod Hourigan at his home in Bendigo on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately there was only one wine available to try but it was worth the visit and I would like to try more of their wine in the future.
Eppalock Ridge 2001 Heathcote Shiraz sells for $33 at CD. The nose is lifted with chocolate and rich fruit which flows across the palate as intense plum and spice in an attractive sweet and sour layered profile which also includes pepper and aniseed flavours on a respectable length finish. The wine has a lovely structure and balance which is provided by the smooth fine tannins, fresh acid and standout pure distinct fruit. The body is ample weight with a firm but supple consistency and a harmonious developed complexity. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
Damn, its 4.01 pm and the next winery on the list, Balgownie Estate closes at 4 pm so it was time to leave Bendigo and drive to Heathcote. I thought seriously about staying in Bendigo for the night, there are motels everywhere but thought it would be better if I was close to the centre of things in the morning. After all, it’s off-season and accommodation must be plentiful (and less expensive) in the smaller Heathcote area.
Arrived in Heathcote with just enough time to get to the Visitors Information Centre before it closes, but boy it’s hot, its almost 5 pm and still 40 degrees. The VIC informs me there is only one motel in town and a place that’s sort of like a motel called “Affordable Accommodation.” There are some B&B’s but for a single they are a bit expensive. I take the proffered brochures and also ask where the best place to eat is, without hesitation the reply is the Emeu Inn (which is also the top B&B in the area.)
Drove to the motel to find there is a “dog show” in town and the motel is booked up. I tried the “Affordable Accommodation” place but it didn’t have air conditioning and it was still 40 degrees. So I bit the bullet and booked into the upmarket B&B, the Emeu Inn - talk about an oasis. The room was well appointed, the hospitality extremely professional but friendly. Owned by Leslye and Theis, the wife runs the front of house and the husband is a professional chef and runs the best restaurant in town. The best part is the 30 foot walk after dinner to bed. The restaurant has an extensive list of local wines but the mark up is about average so it's not inexpensive.
The food was excellent and perfectly cooked. For a starter I had Yabby bisque which was full flavoured, delicious and as good as this dish gets and the bread rolls were home made too. For a main I had Spatchcock which was cooked to perfection and very filling, the servings are generous. The deserts were enough to tempt me, in fact there were about three I liked the look of but decided on the flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake with King Island cream on the side. I don’t know how they did it, but the dish was as light as a feather. Starters were about $12, mains about $23 and desserts about $10 so the food is reasonably priced. Certainly the quality, presentation and service are there and I would happily eat here again. To accompany dinner I tried a bottle of red, surprise!
Occams Razor 2002 Shiraz is made by Emily Laughton, the daughter of Ron and Elva Laughton of Jaspers Hill fame. The wine is medium in weight and shows some elegance with smooth fine drying unobtrusive tannins, the fruit is pure and deep; its ultra clean and well constructed. Blackcurrant, black plum, aniseed, chocolate and spice flavours have good power and a reasonable length finish. It’s a classy refined wine and although it has potential, to me there is something lacking but I can’t put my finger on it, perhaps it’s just too clean. Rated as Recommended with ** for value. Should be long lived.
Back to the Emeu inn! I love the no BS New York attitude of the owners where Leslye has posted a note on the front of the ‘room folder’ that says “Please note this is a non-smoking property. If you choose to disregard our strict ‘No SMOKING’ policy anywhere inside our facilities, the extensive cleaning and dry cleaning bill, and our inability to let the room the following day WILL be charged to your account. Thank you for your co-operation.”
An antique press at Tahbilk……………..
The breakfast the next morning was also very good and after a quick meal, Leslye was kind enough to let me taste some wines. The Emeu Inn also acts as a local tasting centre where a small fee is charged and people have the ability to try a few of the local wines. This is not sponsored by the wineries and the cost for it is covered by the (hopeful) sales of bottled wines. They also have some slightly older stock available for sale too. See their web site if you are interested.
St Michaels 2001 Merlot sells for $45. This is a clean, well made wine that’s absolutely, completely boring. Tannins are smooth and drying, the fruit is delicate but pure and the wine medium weight. Structure is elegant and tight and the red berry, blackberry raspberry and milk chocolate flavours are agreeable. Rated as Recommended with ** for value.
Lake Cooper Estate 2002 Dry Lake Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $27. The bouquet shows red berry, loads of mint, chocolate and subtle oak nuances. The wine is well and truly drinkable but the raspberry and milk chocolate finishes a bit short and there is a donut hole in the palate. Medium in weight, the consistency is supple and the smooth unobtrusive tannins back a solid, almost seamless structure. An easy drinking red that holds some interest as a food wine, its rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Mount Burrumboot Estate 2002 Shiraz sells for $32. This wine will appeal to those that like a lighter style of red, its medium in weight with almost delicate fruit which provides initial sweet red berry flavours which flow through to blackcurrant and mulberry finishing to chocolate, the complexity is well developed. Tannins are there but unobtrusive, helping to provide a structure that is elegant. Almost a little thin for my liking, it’s rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Barnadown Run 2001 Shiraz sells for $39 here. This was a wine that I was looking forward to trying but is sold out at the winery. Unfortunately the bottle had been opened for a few days and was showing signs of oxidation so I will provide an impression without a rating. A well made clean wine that’s interesting. Ample in weight, smooth drying tannins combine with pure distinct fruit and unobtrusive acid to form a firm supple consistency, a solid, layered, not quite elegant structure and harmonious complexity. Raspberry on the uptake with milk and dark chocolate combining with mint on a good length finish.
It was very kind of Leslye to allow me to taste these wines and after trying them it was time to hit the road again.
First stop was another winery that I was unfamiliar with and as you can see from the sign, I had no idea what to expect. Huntleigh was started in 1975 so its one of the older vineyards in the area, the property is 60 acres with 12 of them being under vines. Most of the wine is sold from CD. The current owners, Joe and Leigh Hunt are retiring and that’s why the property is up for sale. When I arrived they had just returned from a car rally though the dirt roads of Victoria in their old MGB.
Huntleigh 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon costs $18 at CD. An interesting wine that’s very food friendly and will be appreciated by those that like a lighter style of red, its sweet on the uptake with raspberry that flows through to pepper on the mid palate with mint and chocolate on the finish. The fruit is pure but delicate, tannins unobtrusive but there, and these components provide a seamless elegant structure and supple consistency. Rated as Recommended with *** for value this is a good deal considering the age of the wine.
Huntleigh 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon costs $20 at CD. An interesting wine also in the lighter style, it’s slightly bigger than the 1997. The wine is clean and elegant with ripe red currant, chocolate and mint which provide an agreeable flavour profile. Approachable now, it will be better in 2007 and beyond. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Huntleigh 2001 Shiraz costs $23 at CD. Purple in colour, the nose is subtle and shows earthy notes, sweet ripe berry fruit, spice, pepper and chocolate. For a medium weight wine this one is impressive with its ultra fine smooth tannins and pure, obvious, deep fruit which is sweet on the uptake, intensely savoury on the mid palate and has a long mouth filling finish. Consistency is firm but silky, the structure shows some elegance and the complexity is well developed. Not a wimpy wine despite its weight, its rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve and although it’s approachable now, it should peak about 2008 and beyond.
You can do a lot worse than buying a mixed case from this winery.
Munari Rustic Cellar Door ………………………
Munari Wines is another winery about which I have seen a few positive comments but have not had the opportunity to try their wines. In 1992, Adrian and Deborah Munari purchased the Lady Creek property and registered it as their trading name. However of late, about 3-4 years years ago they have called ourselves Munari Wines (trading as Lady's Pass vineyard). The story has it that "bushrangers" held up the coaches at Lady's Pass and only allowed the "Ladies" to pass.
Whilst I was at the winery Adrian was very busy doing all sorts of things and was quite happy to let me taste my way through the wines whilst he was talking to customers and away from the cellar for short periods of time. The heat over the past few days had obviously got to him as it was only mid morning and he looked completely knackered. Adrian is a very down to earth no BS type person and very laid-back and relaxed when talking about wine and the problems in the wine business. Overall the wines were good and some were impressive.
Munari 2002 Lady Pass Shiraz sells for $40 at CD. Some VA on the purple fruit nose, which is also showing liquorice and black fruit characters. Not exactly a subtle wine, it is very enjoyable and needs a big steak for full appreciation and it is a great result considering its 13.6% alcohol when normally wines this big have a much higher level of alcohol. Tannins are fine grained and smooth, the fruit strong, deep and obvious which produces a full bodied solid wine with a harmonious diverse complexity. The youthful fruit of liquorice, plums, blackberry, dark chocolate, spice and mint have a big flavour and length finish. Approachable now, it’s lush and in some ways it’s Barossan in character and at the same time it’s not unlike the Chateau Leamon 2002 Reserve Shiraz but bigger. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value the rating should improve as it matures around 2008+.
Munari 2002 School House Red sells for $35 at CD. It’s a blend of Shiraz [67%] from Heathcote, Bendigo and Broadford, with Viognier [8 %] and Cabernet Sauvignon [25%] from Heathcote. A fresh bottle had just been opened and the nose of this wine was completely dumb and other than a bit of a VA lift it showed very little. On the palate it was as tight as a fish's you know what at 40 fathoms. Deep pure fruit produces multiple berry flavours from raspberry to blackberry, spice, pepper, subtle liquorice fills the mouth and builds across the palate in waves of sweet and savoury flavours and finishes long. Muscular in weight, the ultra fine tannins add to the terrific structure that is solid, elegant and layered with a refined complexity, all this wine needs is about four years. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, my mouth was watering just thinking about this wine when I was typing up these notes.
……..The inside is rustic but has some colour too
At the time I tasted this wine and made my tasting note I had no idea of the wines make up or even the grape varieties so when I got home I checked to find out it was a blend of Shiraz [67%] from Heathcote, Bendigo and Broadford, with Viognier [8%] and Cabernet Sauvignon [25%] from Heathcote. Normally I am not a fan of wines with a high percentage of Viognier but this one was good!
Munari 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $35 at CD. A good, honest, clean, well made interesting wine with pure, obvious fruit and smooth tannins that produces an ample weight drop that has a firm supple consistency, a harmonious complexity and shows some elegance to its structure. Intense sweet blackcurrant, spice, liquorice and mint fill the mouth and it has a lovely mouth feel. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should peak about 2008+.
Munari 2002 Bendigo Shiraz sells for $20 at CD. The oak influence on the bouquet is noticeable. Initial sweet berry fruit goes savoury with spice and liquorice with sappy green characters at the finish. Ample in weight, the complexity is agreeable but the other wines from here are a lot better. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Munari 2002 The Ridge Shiraz sells for $25 at CD. An open wine (WYSIWYG) with deep, obvious, persistent fruit that produces intense black pepper, plums, liquorice and a sappy green finish that does not detract as there is enough intensity of the fruit to balance it out. There is also some burnt raisin like character to the long finish. Muscular in weight, the unobtrusive tannins back a firm but supple consistency and the well-developed complexity provides a big bang for the buck. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it will hit its peak in a year or so. The wine is made with bought in fruit from this region and most will find it very appealing but the flavour was a little disjointed for my taste.
From there it was another U turn and a drive back into town in the direction I had come from earlier that morning; covering my tracks again was something I would spend a fair bit of time doing today. Next to the Emeu inn is the Heathcote Winery cellar door outlet. I have been enjoying the wines from this winery for a number of years so I was looking forward to seeing what was available. Unfortunately there was not a huge amount I had not already tasted but the stop was not in vain as there were two bottles to sample.
Heathcote Winery 2001 Slaughterhouse Shiraz is a CD only wine and sells for $32, only 240 dozen were produced. The fruit comes from a single block and this is the first release of this wine since 1994 so the winery obviously thinks it pretty good. A gentle attractive spicy nose showing multiple floral characters, the wine is medium weight with firm but silky tannins, a layered and elegant structure with a well developed refined complexity. The pure powerful medium fruit provides an initial intense sweet raspberry taste going through the palate with savoury layers of spice, chocolate, liquorice and a mill of pepper with a very generous finish. Tannins are deceptive but abundant, smooth powdery and drying in nature. This is a well made and well balanced wine that’s seriously good stuff and has been built for the long haul. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures. For my money, the best wine to come from this winery for awhile.
Heathcote Winery 2001 Curagee sells for $40.50 at CD and is Shiraz with the addition of 4% co-fermented Viognier. Spice with lifted fruit, earthy mushroom, a hint of apricot and some mint show on the bouquet. Abundant drying dusty but unobtrusive tannins provide a firm consistency and the pure obvious fruit and crisp acid combine to form a solid layered structure with some elegance and a diverse level of complexity in this medium weight wine. Very sweet on the uptake with savoury pepper flavour, some apricot, mint and liquorice, it’s a well made wine but doesn’t really grab me. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value.
McIvor Creek has a good view……………..
At least the next winery was in the right direction and I didn’t have to double back on my tracks when I headed out of town to McIvor Creek winery. This is another winery I know nothing about and after visiting the cellar door will be happy to remain ignorant about it in the future. The cellar door seems like it has more devotion to other local products than it does to wine. These include heavily scented timber items which play havoc with the olfactory senses. There was only one red available for tasting, the glasses used did not facilitate a serious tasting effort and there is no spittoon or bucket so it’s walk outside (which is a fair way from the counter) or swallow.
McIvor Heathcote 2001 Heathcote Shiraz sells at CD for $28.50. The tannins are big, the acid lively and the fruit obvious and strong; there is nothing subtle about this wine. Fleshy, ripe, intense blackberry, black plum, all spice, pepper and liquorice provide a big flavour and reasonable length finish. The wine is muscular in weight with a solid structure and an agreeable complexity however it’s a bit in your face at the moment and needs time to tame down. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, if you have any leave it for at least two years before trying it again.
From there it was about a 20 minute drive to the next winery, Paul Osicka Wines and whilst I am not familiar with the wines, the winery does have a good reputation. The winery is built into the side of a cliff and when I walked in it was lovely and cool which was just as well as it was above 40 degrees outside. It was fairly dark in the winery but a “little elderly lady” had her back to me and was reading the newspaper at a table. No matter much noise I made coughing or shuffling my feet or how hard I tried I could not seem to gain her attention. In the office was a guy on the phone and he was involved in a very lengthily conversation and even though he eventually saw me, I was ignored by him too. Not even a friendly dog to keep me company. Ten minutes in a situation like this seems like 10 lifetimes but it was a 20 minute drive to get here and would be more than that to my next winery back on the other side of town so wait it was! Eventually a surgeon painfully extracted the phone from his ear and he came to greet me and asked his mother to serve me.
After a few minutes with mum, I must have been too much to handle as she went to get the man himself and we then had a delightful and long chat about all things vinous. The visit was worth the wait after all. Paul does love a chin wag and is a very open and honest sort of guy. In fact I wound up staying longer than I had planned as he was so amiable and friendly. The vast majority of the fruit is estate grown and the winery is essentially almost completely an organic dry grown operation. Fruit has been grown on the site for 50 years and they have been making commercial quantities of wine since the 1970’s.
Paul and his cash register, I wonder which is older?
Paul Osicka Wines 2001 Merlot sells at CD for $18. This one has a good structure with smooth drying tannins and distinct obvious fruit, which provides a savoury, somewhat fleshy palate (but not fat) with plum, chocolate and liquorice on a good length finish. It’s ample in weight, silky and harmonious, which makes for easy drinking and its level of interest is better than many Merlots in this price bracket. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Paul Osicka Wines 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon sells at CD for $20.00. The nose is earthy with blackcurrant and chocolate. The distinct, obvious fruit delivers savoury blackberry which is very ripe and whilst the complexity is harmonious, I found it to have a bit of a stewed character. Tannins are very fine and unobtrusive; the weight is medium and the consistency firm but with a supple mouth feel. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Unfortunately the 2001 Shiraz was sold out but I did get to try a sample of the 2002 but as it was a single barrel sample and unblended there are no notes. Suffice it to say, if the rest of the wine is as good as the sample, the wine is a winner. Paul was also kind enough to open a bottle of a special batch of 1997 Shiraz that he has been holding for a delayed release.
Paul Osicka Wines 1997 (yet to be named special bin) Shiraz should sell for about $33 when it is released to mail order customers and restaurants fairly soon. The wines come from three selected barrels, two were American oak and one was French, all 100% new. The bouquet shows some polish and is fruit rich with blackberry, iodine and smoky oak. The big tannins are slightly drying, the acid is still fresh and the fruit obvious and strong, which combines to form a muscular weight wine with a solid structure (with some elegance) and an agreeable level of complexity. Rich blackberry, aniseed, spice and smoky oak provide a long finish. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value and when you consider the age of the wine on release, it’s a good deal.
Paul seems like a very conservative winemaker and business man who obviously knows what he is doing. We had a long chat about all sorts of things vinous and I learnt a lot from him. We also talked about the area in general and Paul added additional information which further confirmed my thoughts about the influx of weekend wine warrior winemakers and their impact the local areas wine tourism. Which brings me to the …..
In most cases when I am travelling to a wine region and try and make appointments to see wineries they are generally very cooperative and happy to see me. Even if they are sold out of wine, usually they see me and find something to open. The Heathcote and Bendigo areas proved to be the exception. I emailed and faxed a number of wineries, some were very cooperative, for example Jasper Hill, which is interesting as it one of the few wineries that has nothing to prove.
David Anderson of Wild Duck Creek was unable to see me but at least he rang me back within a few hours of sending the fax and we had a long chat. Barnadown Run was unable to see me and took the trouble to send me samples so I could include their upcoming releases in this tour diary. However one winery took over a week to respond to the fax and it was with a “no” we can’t see you and a couple didn’t respond at all. But the marketing gets worse. Last year when I rang the Heathcote Visitors Information Centre and asked for details of the wineries, they sent me a hand drawn map that looked like it had been completed by a primary school child (see this link for a copy). Is it just me that thinks this? No!
I had a discussion with Leslye at the Emeu Inn about the attitude of the local wineries and their lack of marketing ability to promote their own products. She agreed that many of the newer local wineries will find themselves in trouble eventually because of their attitude towards visitors and marketing their wines. To my mind, based on my experience on this trip, many of the wineries seem plain downright arrogant in their approach to people who are seeking them out and are silly enough to want to try their wines. Things may not always be as good as they currently are for these wineries and in time some of them may come to regret this behaviour.
Leslye also told me that the local information centre had been trying to get the wineries to produce a brochure for ages and due to the lack of action and failure of the wineries to provide information, the Information Centre, off their own bat, tried to source the information and put together the one page flyer I received. If an industry can’t cooperate enough to market themselves it’s not a very good state of affairs.
Paul Osicka and a couple of the well established wineries in the area confirmed the machinations behind the production of a brochure which finally was released not long ago. It seems that the local wine producers group is in a bit of disarray. Apparently the problem stems from the multitude of new players that have now come into the area, many of them part time wine operations that don’t understand the realities of the wine business. (This was a theme that was constantly espoused by a number of established wineries all the way through to Rutherglen.) The new players have certainly caused problems to the marketing of the Heathcote area and in many ways make it even harder for the full time established wineries. These comments from some of the established players didn’t come across as a case of sour grapes because of increased competition, it came across as frustration in having to deal with players who don’t understand the realities of the game and are impacting on the whole.
The good news is that a new brochure is now available but the marketing problems and arrogance still are there. These guys need to realise they are not in competition with each other and that they can help each other sell wine, they are in competition with other wine tourist areas. End of rant and back to the wine.
Barnadown Tasters – these “bottles” are a bit different to most “samples” received
As I mentioned in the rant, Andrew Millis from Barnadown Run was unable to see me but did send me samples of his upcoming new releases. They were being blended and were about to be bottled when we spoke on the phone and a few days after I returned there was a parcel for me, not the normal four bottles I usually receive from a winery. All the wines were very tight, closed and obviously suffering from their recent treatment.
Barnadown Run 2002 Merlot will sell for $35 and was locked up tight even after a few hours in the glass with lots of swirling but it reluctantly showed plum, milk coffee and some perfumed notes. Ample in weight, the wine has some sweet characteristics but is more into the savoury spectrum of things. It’s well balanced with fine tannins that are a little chewy, fresh acid and medium fruit. Structure is very firm and closed at the moment and I am sure I am not seeing the complete picture at the moment so I won’t rate it.
Barnadown Run 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for $35 and was also tight but what little showed from the bouquet seemed to be varietally correct. The wine has an excellent structure with abundant fine powdery tannins, deeply seated buried savoury fruit and well judged acid which will take many years to come together and show its best. Ample to muscular in weight the layered fruit flavours start of sweet dark berry and turns not so sweet with a touch of anise, chocolate on the mid palate, mint and cigar box on the respectable finish. It’s also fairly more-ish in nature and encourages another sip, always a good sign. Judging this one is like looking at an ankle and a few inches of calf and trying to describe the whole leg, you have a sense of proportion and what it should be like but will have to take a second closer look under the skirt later on. My best guess at this stage is Highly Recommended.
Barnadown Run 2002 Shiraz will sell for $35 and it initially showed some sawdust characters, a hint of vanilla and deeply brooding dark fruit. The palate was a surprise and a pleasant one at that, not only is the fruit brooding deeply, but its much richer than I expected with lashing of dark chocolate and dark fruit flavours which are impossible to separate at this point. Tannins are dusty and copious but are well matched to the quantity of fruit and the wine is obviously well made and balanced. Savoury in nature, the blackberry plum, dark chocolate, black coffee, mint and sappy green tobacco flavours finish respectably long with a large impact from the drying tannins. Given a little time to settle down, the wine should rate as Highly Recommended; this is another brooding bub that demands bottle time.
Barnadown Run 2002 Henry Bennett’s will sell for $45. Another bank vault nose! Knowing nothing about this wine from the first taste I would guess it was a Cabernet Merlot blend. The sweet and savoury aspects flow across the palate in a layered formation and finish dry from the abundant fine dusty tannins. Plum, chocolate, blackcurrant and sappy green mint flavours are released from the almost unyielding pure fruit. The wine is ample in weight and is has all the hallmarks of a well balanced, solid wine which just need time to come together. Given a little time, I imagine this will be a harmonious drop and the first of the line up to peak. Even at this early stage it has signs of being a serious crowd pleaser. The wine turned out to be a blend of Shiraz Cabernet and Malbec (60% 25% 15%) so my guess was way wrong as to the blend. I won’t rate this one as it was obviously suffering from its recent pre bottling treatment.
In every trip like this there is usually one highlight that stands out but on this trip I was lucky enough to have four of these experiences and all four, whilst very different, will be long remembered. Jasper Hill is one of the oldest and certainly most respected wineries in the region and for good reason. Vines were planted almost 30 years ago. Georgia’s Paddock is about 29 hectares of Shiraz that yields about 1.3 tons per acre. Emily’s Paddock is about 8 acres and yields about .9 ton per acre. The vineyards are totally organic (no synthetic chemicals) and dry grown. The fruit is hand picked and harvested when fully ripe. High levels of natural acidity are maintained even when sugar levels are 14 Baume or higher and acid is never adjusted.
…………………The sign says it all
The wines sell out quickly after release and once that happens the winery is only open by appointment. I had spoken to Elva on the phone a couple of times in the past but had never had the pleasure of meeting either her or Ron. When I made the appointment Elva asked me to make it late in the day as they had overseas visitors for lunch and that Ron may not have a lot of time available as they had to be in Melbourne for dinner. That was the bad news but the good news was according to Elva was that there would be “some wine open.” Never did I expect to have the opportunity to taste my way though six vintages of Georgia and six vintages of Emily, all the even years from 1992 to 2002 inclusive.
On arrival at the Loughton’s house at the appointed hour of 4 pm there were about a dozen people crowded around the dining table, obviously all wine people and by the look on their faces, having a thoroughly good time. It quickly became obvious that Ron and Elva are the perfect hosts and were really taking care of their guests. It was 41 degrees outside and the wind is blowing, more hot air than parliament house on a day filled with contentious issues, not exactly the best sort of conditions to taste twelve bottles of iconic red wine. A brief discussion took place about the problems of keeping wine in hot weather and some restaurants inability to manage the situation properly. We traded war stories on this subject and as producers, the Laughtons are very concerned about supplying their red wine to restaurants that cannot look after it properly and serve it at a drinkable temperature. (See Rant Number One in Chapter One.)
But I was being looked after, being good wine people they know how to do it right and I was given two Riedel Shiraz glasses and an esky filled with a dozen bottles which were being kept cool in some iced water and a corner of the sideboard.
Elva and Ron, although extremely busy, kept asking if I was all right, if I needed anything and didn’t for a second forget that I was there and kept apologising for not being able to spend time with me. As there was only two hours available for the tasting and twelve bottles to get through in some ways that turned out to be a blessing, as I was able to concentrate all my energies on tasting the wine and being completely focused on the task at hand. Tasting two verticals at the same time and doing such fine wines justice does take plenty of concentration and thought.
Jasper Hill 2002 Georgia’s Paddock - I actually drank this wine out of order; after the 1998 and before the 1996 but will post the notes in sequential order. The bouquet of this wine was inky black, slightly volatile in nature and had enough menthol to clear the nose. Acid is unobtrusive, the tannins abundant, fine grained and drying; the fruit is strong, pure and distinct which combines to form a full bodied wine with a rich firm consistency and well developed complexity that has some sophistication. On the palate it’s very sweet and ripe with blackcurrant, blackberry, liquorice, chocolate which finishes to mint; a great complexity of flavour is the result. A very pleasant wine that needs time but should be long lived, it’s rated as Excellent, drink from 2010+.
Jasper Hill 2002 Emily’s Paddock - I also drank this wine out of order; after the 1998 and before the 1996 but will post the notes in sequential order. This bottle had been out of the cold water for some time and was a little warmer than the ideal temperature so the VA can possibly be discounted. Full bodied, the consistency is very firm and is heavily influenced by the copious quantities of very fine grained drying mouth-puckering tannins but the fruit is up to the task and is pure, deep and obvious. It’s solid as a rock and tight but in reality it’s but just a pup and whilst it shows great potential, it’s very difficult to judge at this early stage. Complexity is well developed and it should get better with time. Blackberry, blackcurrant, plum aniseed and spearmint combine to form an interesting flavour profile. Rated as Highly Recommended now, I would like to try this again in 2012, by then it should be coming into its own.
Jasper Hill 2000 Georgia’s Paddock was a glass staining dark purple. Lifted intense bouquet showing dark berry fruit, plums, liquorice and chocolate; it’s a classy wine and whilst I wouldn’t call it elegant I would call it stately. Muscular in weight with a firm consistency and solid structure the complexity is refined; acid is unobtrusive, the tannins very smooth fine and dusty with strong pure persistent fruit that is intense. On the palate the power of the fruit sneaks up on you like a devious plot and fills the mouth with plums, blackcurrant, liquorice and chocolate that finishes long. Rated as Excellent now, the rating should increase as the wine starts to reach its peak in about four years.
Jasper Hill 2000 Emily’s Paddock showed a lifted bouquet with blackcurrant, plums, heaps of chocolate and mint. A lovely wine and more complex than the 2000 Georgia! Pure, deep, strong, concentrated fruit provide a huge intensity of chocolate, plum, blackberry and mint flavours which are woven into an incredibly complex flavour profile and the abundant powdery tannins assist the finish which goes into the next week. Just thinking about this wine when typing up the notes made my mouth water! Muscular in weight, the consistency is firm but supple, the structure solid and layered which should become seamless in time; complexity is diverse, sophisticated and harmonious. It needs time for the tannins to integrate and whilst it rated as Excellent now, the rating will be Outstanding when it matures in 2009 and beyond.
Not much sign of water round here ……………
Jasper Hill 1998 Georgia’s Paddock has a lifted warm and ripe aroma with much mint, blackberry, plum, chocolate and the typical earthy Heathcote scent. Super sweet cherry on the uptake moving into blackberry and chocolate on the mid palate with loads of mint on the tail; it’s riper than the 2000 but in some ways not as complex. Muscular in weight, it has a rich and firm consistency with a solid structure and well developed complexity. Tannins are super ripe and very fine grained, the acid is fresh but noticeable and the fruit is ripe, pure and obvious. Rated as Excellent it should start to hit its straps about 2006.
Jasper Hill 1998 Emily’s Paddock is super sweet on the uptake, which it maintains as a base layer of flavour with savoury blackcurrant, blackberry and liquorice which finishes respectably. It’s riper than the 2000 but not as complex and the finish is not as good. Muscular in weight it’s a solid big wine, the fruit is obvious and deep, the tannins are powdery and drying but they still stick out a little. In my rough notes I put the comment “structure?”. Rated as Highly Recommended I am not sure how this one will end up but the tannins do need about six years to integrate.
Jasper Hill 1996 Georgia’s Paddock has lost some of the original fresh flush fruit of youth and is starting to also show some aged earthy nuances, mint and menthol. Tannins are integrating well, they are smooth and very fine; the acid is unobtrusive and the fruit is pure deep and persistent. Muscular in weight, the structure is still tight and shows some elegance and the layered fruit is sweet blackcurrant, blackberry, aniseed and chocolate on a good long finish. Complexity is well developed, it's sophisticated and harmonious, all in all it’s a very classy drop indeed. Drinking well now, there is no hurry to consume it and it’s rated as Excellent but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was drinking it in a relaxed environment to find it was Outstanding.
Jasper Hill 1996 Emily’s Paddock has a delightful perfumed nose showing wonderful complexity. Two things stand out about this wine, the wonderful fruit used and the perfect structure. In terms of fruit, it shows fantastic purity and depth which fills the palate with so many intermingling flavours its hard to know where to start describing them; blackcurrant, liquorice, chocolate, mint, raspberry and red currant are all found but, best of all, there are no over the top character, jammy or overripe components. In terms of structure, it’s muscular in weight with ultra fine tannins and unobtrusive acid, which combines with the fruit to form a wine with harmonious sophisticated complexity, some elegance and loads of class. It fills the mouth and goes on and on till you have no choice but to go “wow”. Its real class so there is no surprise that it’s rated as Outstanding.
Jasper Hill 1994 Georgia’s Paddock is lighter than most of the other wines. The components have integrated and the pure, obvious fruit shows plum, blackcurrant, and mint but the finish on this wine is not as generous as the other vintages tried. However it’s a good wine and in the prime of its life with ample weight, the consistency is silky, complexity is harmonious sophisticated and well developed, whist the structure is seamless and has some elegance. Still a class act, it's rated as Excellent.
Jasper Hill 1994 Emily’s Paddock is very different from the 94 Georgia and seems riper. Tannins have almost resolved, the acid is unobtrusive and pure fruit presents in layered levels with cassis, chocolate, blackcurrant, blackberry, more chocolate and mint on a very good finish. Ample in weight, the consistency is silky and the open structure is layered, almost seamless and shows some elegance. Drinking well now (but should peak in a couple of years), the complexity is harmonious and sophisticated; rated as Outstanding.
Jasper Hill 1992 Georgia’s Paddock has a big ripe intense nose of blackberry, truffle and mint. Simply, this wine is a joy to drink! The components are integrated with mouth filling liquorice, blackberry, blackcurrant, raspberry and mint which display their properties with real depth of power in multiple layers and finish as you would expect a wine of this class to do. Muscular in weight, the consistency is firm but supple, the structure almost seamless and the complexity harmonious. It should continue to drink at it peak for another five years; rated as Outstanding.
Jasper Hill 1992 Emily’s Paddock has an intense complex bouquet showing liquorice, mint and all sorts of other goodies (in other words my nose it getting tired-J.) What can one say about this wine? It’s all class! The standout feature is the fruit; it’s wonderfully pure, deep and distinct even after twelve years. Tannins have integrated and provide a supple backbone and the wine is now seamless but with layered flavours of blackcurrant, blackberry, milk chocolate, dark chocolate that fills the palate and lasts till I get to the next town. Refined in the nicest possible way, the wine also has stature, rated as the Ultimate.
All the wines tasted were good, there was not a bad one in the whole line up so ranking them is difficult. I don’t believe in the 20 or 100 point systems and even those systems would not show the order in which I found these wines so I will have come up with “TORB’s Relative Ranking” for this exercise (bad pun intended).
Georgia Ranking Points 10 Comment
2002 4th best 8
2000 3rd best 9
1998 least preferred 7
1996 Best 9 Great potential
1994 5th best 8
1992 Second 9 Perfect now
Emily Ranking Points 10 Comment
2002 5th best 7
2000 3rd best (close) 10
1998 least preferred 6 Very tannic
1996 Second 10
1994 4th best 8 Enjoyable now
1992 Best 10+ Perfect now
It was only when I was typing up these notes and completing the findings from my hand written notes that I noticed that the very close ranking of both wines from the same vintage. For example both 1998 wines were my least preferred and all others only had one place between them. Now that’s consistent wine making!
In terms of the 1998 wines for the heck of it I checked Jeremy Oliver’s ratings to see what he thought. It was interesting to see that that in the case of the Georgia he also rated it the lowest of the vintages I tasted, however he rated the Emily the second best.
Both Ron and Elva Laughton are ‘warm, classy, refined and generous’ people and it's interesting to note that I have used three of these adjectives many times in describing various facets of their wines. So if they are trying to produce wines that reflect themselves, they are achieving their objective.
Needless to say I walked out of here on a high so it is on that high note that I will end this chapter. More next week!
Copyright © Ric Einstein 2004
The previous chapter can be found here
The next chapter can be found here