The Bigot Bros™ Turbocharged 2008 Victorian Tour – Chapter Two
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Day Two – Thursday – The Pyrenees
This Chapter is big! When I was planning this trip, I knew that I could not visit all the wineries I wanted to see, so I arranged to get samples from some wineries. I have been able to look at these wines at home at my leisure, so there will be some “virtual visits” included in this Chapter too. It turned out to be the biggest Chapter I have written. Ever. It's over sixteen thousand words and if you print it out, it will take forty-one pages! It will be far easier to read if you print it out, but for faster browsing, it has been broken up into two sections.
Wine menu at Kerry's - have a look at the Shiraz descriptor. Oh dear!
After yet another losing round of ‘breakfast roulette’ yesterday, we took a walk up the main street to see if we could spot anything that looked like it would be a better gamble for the next days bet. We came across a place called Kerry’s and it looked like it might be worth a punt. There was a breakfast menu in the window, the place was licensed and they had Eggs Benedict listed. It was definitely worth chancing, so that's where we headed for breakfast today.
We sat at a small table with our two broadsheet newspapers. As soon as the owner saw the cramped conditions, she suggested we moved to the very big table in the centre of the restaurant. That really enabled us to spread out. For a change, the espresso coffee was more than drinkable, it was actually enjoyable, and we both had two cups. They also served freshly squeezed orange juice, which is a bonus, and difficult to find in a small country town. I ordered Eggs Benedict and whilst they were edible, they lacked the grace and sophistication of the real thing. The eggs were not poached floating in hot water the way they should be, they were placed in a ring and by the time they got to me, they were hard. In a strange twist, they don't serve their Eggs Benedict with ham. I asked for mine to be served with ham. That's exactly what I got; a pile of sliced ham next to the Eggs Benedict. Even with those shortcomings, it was better than 99% of the breakfasts we normally have on these trips. Brian had bacon, tomato and sausages with toast. The serving was huge. We both walked out happy.
Our first appointment was at Dalwhinnie at 10.00 at their winery in Moonambel, but as we had finished breakfast by 8.30 we calculated we had just enough time for a quick visit to (Redbank) Sally's Paddock first. We took the back road to Redbank and had no phone reception the whole way. I remember from my last trip that the Pyrenees is notoriously bad for phone reception. It’s about as hard to find as a great Burgundy that won’t give your credit card a cardiac arrest. We arrived at Redbank at about 9.20 and despite the advertised hours stating it should be open at 9 am, there was no one there. I got out of the car to see what was going on; miracle upon miracles, I had phone reception long enough to retrieve my messages. Then I breathed and lost it. A message had come in for Brian about two minutes before. When Brian checked out of the motel, he left his suit carrier with all his clean shirts on the bed. From where we were, it was an hour and three-quarter round-trip; I was not impressed but I would have been less impressed if Brian had worn the same shirt all week. To add insult to injury, I was going to have to pay for his mistake as it was my turn to pay for the petrol next time. XX We decided to worry about collecting his clothes later in the day, and at worst, he would drop me at our accommodation around five o'clock and drive back himself. The gods must have been looking after us because that was the only time we would have had reception until after 7 p.m. that night.
At 9.25 as we were driving out, a ute drove in. It turned out to be the cellar door manager. I wonder if he had a note from his mum for being late. We turned around and went back for a quick tasting. The last time I was here, it was a very hot day and the inside of the cellar door was like a furnace. The wines had become hot, volatile and completely undrinkable. It'll come as no surprise to readers that they got a right, royal bollocking in that Tour Diary.
On this occasion it wasn't hot. If anything it was cool outside. We had to warm up the wine in our hands, something that is never a problem. During our conversation with the cellar door manager, the subject of the wine temperature arose and I mentioned my unfortunate experience here. He had a great deal of delight in telling me, that since that time, they had installed glass doors behind the old, original, draughty timber doors which did absolutely nothing for temperature control. The new glass doors do a marvellous job of keeping the heat from blasting in during summer.
The winery has three ranges; the entry-level Hundred Tree Hill series, the Sally's Hill series and the Sally's Paddock. (The Redbank brand is now owned by Yalumba) As we had a time restriction, we only tried the Sally's wines.
Sally's Hill 2005 Shiraz sells for $19.90 by direct order and is sealed under Diam. The bouquet shows blue spectrum fruit with vanillin oak notes. The silky tannins provide a great mouth-feel. It’s a medium-weight, supple wine that is almost seamless, and with it is harmonious nature, glides down the gullet easily. Blueberry, chocolate and vanilla flavours finish with reasonable persistence of flavour but it is short on the back palate. A good food wine, it is rated as Recommended with *** for value and will be best consumed between 2010 and 2013.
Sally's Hill 2005 Cabernet sells for $19.90 by direct order and is sealed under Diam. The slightly smoky oak covers dark spectrum fruit on the bouquet. A well-structured wine that is solidly backed by fine, dusty tannins; it's just ample-weight with a firm consistency and very agreeable complexity. The juicy-fruit delivers blackcurrant, milk chocolate, vanilla and eucalyptus flavours that linger well. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures in 2012 and beyond. It's fantastic value at that price.
Sally's Hill 2005 Cabernet Franc sells for $21.90 at cellar door and is sealed under Diam. The bouquet has good aromatics and shows perfumed fruit. Dusty tannins combine with unobtrusive, balanced acid and distinct fruit to form a medium-weight, solid wine with a supple consistency and uncomplicated complexity. I found it a bit one-dimensional. Plum, meaty notes and earthy characters complete the package. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value drink over the next five years.
Sally's Paddock 2005 sells for $57.80 at cellar door and is sealed under Diam. The bouquet shows delightful, floral aromatics with loads of complexity. The wine is brilliantly constructed with pure, deep, fruit that is solidly backed by very-fine smooth, powdery tannins. It's ample-weight, tight, elegant and has a sophisticated complexity. The rich, clean fruit shows beautifully and finishes long, dry and clean. A wine with class, its rated as it Excellent with *** for value; drink from 2017 to 2027 and the rating may improve in time. Brian said "This will be a stunner."
Although our visit to Sally's was brief, three out of four wines were worthy of consideration and wines that I would be happy to drink. The Sally's Paddock was right up there with the best of the trip and is a good buy at the $50 price at a couple of good independent merchants, or even the $52.30 + freight via the winery online store..
Our first set appointment was with David Jones at Dalwhinnie. I have been to the winery on a number of occasions and have been enjoying their wine for more years than I care to count, but I have never been able to catch up with David to do a feature on his winery. When I made the appointment, I expected much of the same procedure I get at most wineries. A trip through the winery with the winemaker proudly showing their latest gadget or toy, a possible quick visit to the vineyard to have a look at a vine or two, and then back in for a tasting. Dalwhinnie was completely different. Man was it different.
After we had shook hands and had said hello to his dog (I think they must issue Jack Russell's with basket presses, seemingly every second winery has got a Jack,) David asked us how much time we had available. Once he had the answer (that we had plenty) he said, "Let's take a walk through the vineyard." Let me tell you dear reader, often when a winemaker says that, you know you are going to be bored to death for the next 10 or 15 minutes, but you are their guest, have to be polite, and feigning interest. That was my thinking as we walked out the door, but I was in for a pleasant and unexpected surprise. I had not realised that whilst David does some of his own winemaking, he is first and foremost a viticulturalist. He also has other attributes that stopped me falling asleep on my feet out of sheer boredom. David’s passion for his land, and his spot within the universe, as well as what he does with that land is rooted in him from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. David's enthusiasm is infectious. He also has the wonderful ability to be able to explain the intricacies and complexities of complex viticultural practices in simple words that anyone can understand.
After that praise, it should be pointed out that David does have one huge shortcoming. Let me explain. His vineyard is the most hilly I have seen in Australia. It goes up and down more often than a bride's nightie. I know I can be ornery and cantankerous at times, especially when I haven’t had sufficient caffeine, but I don't look or act like a bloody goat. So I don't know why David Jones thought that I'm half a mountain goat, because that’s the only logical conclusion I came to after having been dragged up hill and down dale through the vineyard. Sheesh: the Tour de France bike riders don't go up and down that many hills in a day. (Brian’s comment: I’m used to my dogs taking me for walks up steep hills, so I was happy, but I was watching Ric closely for signs of respiratory distress, I didn’t want to have to help carry him anywhere!)
Unwanted exercise aside, it was a fascinating experience. I learnt a tremendous amount, much of which is worth sharing with you.
It all started in 1972 when David's father, Ewan, purchased the 45 acre property. At a height of 400 meters above sea level, it is the most elevated vineyard in the district, and has stunning views. Surrounded by hills on three sides, the vineyard is a virtual amphitheatre. David took over the management in 1983 and together with his wife, Jenny, they purchased the property in 1994. They have six acres of Pinot Noir on another block on the valley floor, but from now on, these grapes will be sold to Taltarni for sparkling wine. There is nothing wrong with the quality of the grapes coming from the vineyard but David has decided if he is going to make Pinot Noir, he wants it to have better freshness and varietal integrity, and so he will eventually source grapes from another region, possibly Tasmania or Geelong. They also have another vineyard that was planted to Shiraz in 1999. That fruit is being sold to Giant Steps under contract. In total they have 65 acres.
The first impression gained when walking through the vineyard, is the place is immaculate. There are no permanent swards between the rows of vines. In order to keep the weeds down and the vineyard looking so good, they do a dozen passes through the vineyard every year. Those dozen passes are not for spraying, they are purely for soil management. Everything that comes out of the ground is turned back into the soil. Virtually everything is done by hand, pruning, picking, weed control; the lot.
The property has a couple of decent sized dams, but with the warm temperatures and high winds, combined with the lack of rain, the vineyard has been completely dry grown for the last twelve years.
The vineyard is surrounded by trees and native bushland so birds and kangaroos are an issue. A kangaroo proof fence goes some way to help, and the gas-gun, scarecrows and assorted objects that move in the wind reduce the bird problem.
The first block we looked at was the Eagle series block which was planted in 1977. It's one of the blocks closest to the winery. When I looked at the distance between the rows, I thought they looked wider than normal. David confirmed it. He called them Massey Ferguson rows as they were eleven feet apart and designed for an old Massey Ferguson tractor. Although times have changed, David has stuck with this rows spacing as he likes the amount of sunlight it lets into the vines. This particular block is cropped to approximately 1.5 tonnes per acre, and that’s in a good year.
There is a sizable drop between the top and the bottom of the block. This necessitates picking the fruit at different times. David picks on flavour ripeness and has the philosophy that once the fruit is ripe, he wants it off at "a hundred miles an hour." The gang of between twenty-five and thirty pickers can get twelve tonnes of grapes off within seven hours. Naturally that's by hand.
According to David, "The philosophy twenty five years ago was to pick the grapes super ripe which meant the reds came in and about 14.5 degrees beaumé. Now the philosophy is to get freshness, or the verve energy, from the grapes. We are after elegance, freshness, purity and length on the palate.
The Cabernet block was planted in 1977 is also known as the cellar door sales block. To get what we are looking for from the grapes, we don't pick them all at once. We also can't even pick single blocks at once because of the different ripening conditions between the top and the bottom of the block.
At the top of the hill over there, we have a three acre block with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. That block always ripens first and that's where we start picking. By lunchtime that would be done. In the afternoon we do about two hours picking on the cellar door sales block. That would take us about halfway down the hill. We then wait for a week to a week and a half and the balance of this block, together with our oldest Cabernet block, known as the Cabernet Contour block would be picked. We do the same thing with the Shiraz and the Chardonnay. Because we have been doing it for thirty years, we understand the vineyard so well we know exactly which areas to pick and when to pick them.
We are now picking a month earlier than we used to but the resulting wines are finer and more elegant with better complexity. The South Australian producers who are making blockbuster wines are very successful with the style they produce. Those wines are very much suited to both the Australian and the American palate, but most of our wines are sold in continental Europe and fine dining restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney.”
As we ambled up the next hill, I was starting to think it would have been a good idea to bring a water bottle.
David continued, "Our Chardonnay was planted in 1980. You will notice the crowns are very low to the ground, only 80 cm, so they can pick up the reflected warmth from the soil. By creating a different environment we are getting amazingly different characters coming through. In this case we hope they are like Burgundy.” I must admit, this is the first time I had seen this much attention to detail, where the vines are at different heights from the ground in order to maximise grape quality, and in David's words, complexity and personality.
As we trekked up the next big hill, I was starting to think it would have been a good idea to bring a packed lunch.
David continued to tell us about his decision to stop producing a Pinot Noir. “For the last two years it has been too warm to make Pinot. Post-fermentation the pH has been shooting up and the acids have been dropping away dramatically. We have had to drop in about 5 g per litre of tartaric acid to keep it in check. That's easy to do but we are finding that after the wine has settled down, that after twelve months the pH is still very high. Over the last two years (06 and 07) we have been unable to achieve the varietal integrity and freshness we want. These wines have received between 85 and 92 points, but they are never going to get to 96 or 97. We are true perfectionist and purists, and if I am going to do a Pinot, I am going to do it bloody well. Those 06 vintages doesn't make the grade. There will only be a tiny quantity of 07 good enough to release. After that, I am going to leave it for about five years and assess my options, and probably look for new sites in cooler areas that are more suited to the grape variety.”
Then David said something that scared me. "I want to give you a feel for the height of the terroir so we will walk….” As I dragged myself up this mesa, I started to wonder if I could give minus stars for value to the wines that came from this property, and seriously started to question the proprietary of David's parentage.
It was like walking on air when we strolled through the rows of the vines. The soil underfoot was incredibly well aerated and porous. If it buckets down with rain, the water either runs off or soaks straight through. Probably to China! David said, "The earth is hungry and we need to respect the soil because it is so fragile here.
When we got to the Goddess Shiraz block David pointed out that in this case, the crowns were higher off the ground than normal because they wanted to keep the vines cool.
The subject turned to vine clones and their selection. David said, "One thing I like to do is to find distinguished vineyards, taste their wines and then taking cuttings from those vineyards. I then have them struck by professional nursery men. They are normally from hundred year old vineyards and we know they produce the goods. We have been able to source these cuttings from two famous western Victorian vineyards.
And there I was, walking along quietly minding my own business when David said, "This next one is steep. It's a bit tricky for the tractor drivers in spring time. You need to be a good driver to tackle this hill and we use specialised equipment; four-wheel drive tractors.” Bloody Hell! As I crawled up that mountain, I started to seriously wonder how long it would take the paramedics to arrive.
As we gazed out over the block, David told us that it was a fifty meter drop from the top of this block to the bottom. He also stated, "It’s very hungry country. There is no fertility or fertile topsoil as such. When we purchased the property it wasn't even good enough for sheep grazing. It was a desolate, rundown, eroded block. Many of the trees had been cut down by loggers in the previous century. It took us five years to knock the block into shape and rectify the erosion problems. We also had to burn all the old tree stumps, and pick up the huge quartz boulders that littered the site.”
From this position, as we looked out over one of the blocks, there was a stark example of how the eucalyptus trees on the border of the property compete with the vines for water. The rows closest to the trees were virtually non-existent but further into the vineyard the vines became more prolific and stronger as the competition for water decreased.
When we got to the next block, David said, "This is another Chardonnay block and it's a different clone to the previous Chardonnay block. It’s P58 which is common in the Mornington Peninsula. We really liked the smaller berries and the smaller cluster size; it ripens slightly earlier and gives us a lovely waxy honey character.
This next block was planted in 1993 and some of those vines were grafted because we set up a trial on different grafted root stocks. That’s not ideal because termites can get into the grafts and eat out the vines. Coming from a purest background, I am a true believer in growing grapes on their own roots.”
Throughout my torturous trial and his attempt to murder me by exercise, David kept referring to his “single vineyard wines;” the Eagle, South West Rocks and the Goddess. For the record, the South West Rocks does not come from the north coast of New South Wales. It comes from a block in the southwest corner of the property and the "rocks" component is self-explanatory. The name Goddess has nothing to do with the quality of the wine; David's father is a Citroen car lover. The wine is named after a car that was known by those that didn't love it as “Le Frog.” Those that love it know it as the DS or La Déesse which translates to The Goddess.
All the Shiraz and Cabernet with a Dalwhinnie label come from the same single property, so from my perspective, they are all single vineyard wines. The description single vineyard does not meet with David’s lofty ideals. In France, over many generations, family properties have been split into tiny parcels due to inheritance. As a result, from that country's perspective, a single vineyard can be as little as a few rows. When David calls his wines single vineyard, the reality is that they are made from grapes grown in a single block. In typical fashion, David is underselling.
When David planted the Goddess block, he knew he was going to be making a special wine from it. Right from the start, the cropping level was low and the grapes that came from the block were good. But they were not up to David's standards for any of his wines. As a result, up until recently the grapes were sold to another producer. It was only once the vines reached sufficient age, and when David was happy with the quality, that he was prepared to put his label on the wine.
When we got to the South West Rocks block David said, "I really get frustrated. The season last year was going so well and then on the first and second of January we had two hot days; both 42° but the vines were able to handle that extreme. A week later, we had another burst of 42°. (Sigh…..) you can see where the sun has scorched the canopies. The heat was so intense the vines just defoliated. It wasn't just on this block either. In all my decades here, I have never seen that on this property. These vines were so badly damaged they may die, or they may take years to recover; it all depends on the weather.
As we went up hill and down dale, I thought I had better ask David another question before I dropped from exhaustion. David mentioned that he didn't think refractometers were completely accurate and couldn't be relied upon, so I asked him if he thought that too many winemakers were relying on science, rather than relying on experience and intuitive feel. He responded, "Absolutely! Ninety percent work by the book; we threw out the book in 1985.
To grow great grapes you have to be a great observer of nature. To do that, you have to live in the environment and keep a close eye on what is going on. A lot of the young gun winemakers don’t have that discipline. It's great to fly the globe and do two or three vintages in different countries each year. If you want to make iconic wines, you have to live and work with one site. You can't leave it for long, otherwise you never get the expression you desire. The hard work is in managing the vineyard and in growing great grapes. It's hard, dirty work. It's poorly paid in comparison to the winemakers and the wine marketers.
There needs to be more emphasis on classic vineyards in Australia.”
With that comment, we finally got back to the fruit trees outside the cellar door. By that stage I was ready for a massage, a litre of water, a new pair of shoes, some sustenance, and an hour's sleep. I must have looked the part because as we passed the apple tree, David picked one and gave it to me, and as soon as we got into the cellar door, he grabbed bottles of water and glasses. Dead wine writers are not a good look in cellar door, or in newspaper stories either. Never.
The apple trees also grow plastic bags!
If I wasn't convinced that David was trying to kill me before, I certainly was when he insisted we try his Chardonnay. Whilst we were sipping and gagging on the c-through, Brian ask David about his experience with Diam corks. His response was surprising. “We have done the trials for three years and we are moving away from them. They have not been successful and I don't want to use them again. We have found unacceptable levels of random oxidisation and glue taint in the wine. Two days ago we bottled the 07 Chardonnay and we went 50% Stelvin and 50% hand select natural cork. We will do our own trials over five years and then make the decision.” The Chardonnay was clean, fresh and elegant.
Dalwhinnie 2005 Pinot sells for $38 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. This is the last vintage that will be made under this label. The bouquet shows smoky, forest floor characters with cherry/strawberry spectrum fruit and vanilla. The wine is well-balanced and sits nicely in the mouth. The palate shows earthy characters and fresh, savoury cherry flavours that linger nicely and finished clean and dry. It's a lean, supple wine with a harmonious complexity and rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value; drink from 2010.
Dalwhinnie 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is a back vintage but David pulled it out to show us a progression of three vintages. It contains 5% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc and is sealed under cork. David rated this wine as coming from a 10 out of 10 year. The bouquet shows lifted five spice which dominates the dusty notes. The pure, quality, juicy-fruit is perfectly matched to the ultra-fine, tannins. The wine fills the palate completely and crawls across the finish line, dragging the fruit through slowly in a clean, linear and dry fashion. Just-ample in weight it is a firm, solid, shows some elegance and is a "Nicole Kidman" wine; bloody good looking and perfectly constructed. Leafy flavours, blueberry, cherry and milk chocolate complete the package. Rated as Excellent with **** for value.
Dalwhinnie 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is the current vintage and sells for $45 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is vibrant and lifted; it's varietal with cedar, dusty notes, and loads of fresh fruit, vanillin French oak, and spice. The bright, juicy-fruit delivers five spice, blueberry, mint, menthol, and cherry flavours that finish fresh and long. The ripe, powdery tannins finish dry and fill the palate completely. The wine is ample in weight, supple, very tight, and has a harmonious complexity. It's lovely but needs time to show its best. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2013 and 2018.
Dalwhinnie 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for about $47 when it is released in late March to mail order customers and is sealed under cork. The bouquet needs time to open up but does show delightful, perfumed fruit over subtle spice, oak notes, blueberry and mint. Blocky, powdery tannins combine with crisp acid and back this ample-weight, firm, tight wine that has all the right components, but the bottle shock shows and we were looking at it in its worst light. Given time it should be a lot better. Blackberry, cherry and mint flavours finish very long and, linear and clean. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures.
Dalwhinnie 2005 Moonambel Shiraz sells for $55 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. Smell the earth and the stone; lightly perfumed fruit, it's delightful, elegant and complex. Pure fruit and ultra-fine, tight tannins combine with youthful acid to produce a terrifically balanced and structured wine. The superb fruit has excellent power for its weight. Black cherry and blue fruits are savoury and perfectly matched to the vanillin oak; the package finishes long, clean and dry. A medium-weight, supple wine that is elegant, tight and has a well-developed complexity, it's a classy drop and although it's approachable now it will improve. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, drink from 2012 to 2018.
Dalwhinnie 2006 Moonambel Shiraz will sell for about $55 when it is released in late March to mail order customers. The youthful, floral aromatics showed wonderful complexity with blueberry, spice, vanilla and earthy mushroom characters. A modern, clean Australian wine with fine, smooth, tight tannins and pristine fruit that is perfectly lifted by fresh, sherbet like acidity. It’s medium-weight, tight, elegant, and linear across the palate, and has a refined level of complexity. The sweet fruit delivers mocha, chocolate, black cherry, blueberry, cherry, and mint flavours are offset by the clean, acid finish. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, drink from 2012 to 2020.
Dalwhinnie 2005 South West Rocks Shiraz sells for $60 at cellar door, is sealed under cork and is just about sold out. The effect of the whole bunch fermentation is noticeable on the bouquet. The fruit is shining through like a lighthouse beacon; with spice, savoury soy sauce, earthy notes, and oak characters below. It grabbed my attention. Immediately! The wine is restrained, well constructed, elegant, and incredibly tight. Flavours of raspberry, cherry, mocha, multiple different spices and mint provide a refined level of complexity. This wine has all the components and only needs time. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating will mature as the wine enters its peak drinking window around 2013 and beyond.
Dalwhinnie 2004 Eagle Shiraz sells for approximately $150 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is petulant and sulky; milk chocolate, cherry, rose petals, tar, liquorice and menthol are evident, but it has heaps more. Ultra-fine tannins combine with fresh acid and pristine fruit to form an ample-weight, supple, elegant and tight wine that has a sophisticated complexity. Black cherry, mocha, dark chocolate, and Dutch cocoa flavours completely fill the palate with bittersweet flavours and finish with incredible depth and length. It is a complete wine but marvellously tight. Rated as Excellent with ** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures between 2014 and 2024. It was one of the best wines of the trip and is worth it for a special occasion.
When we moved into the winery itself, David said, "Welcome to the Shiraz Temple.” He then showed us a profile of the winery wall. This is no tin shed. No way. The outer layer is 70 mm of high-grade concrete with reinforced steel, the middle layer is 60 mm of foam, and the inner layer is another 150 mm of reinforced concrete. In old money, that's eleven inches thick! That’s almost as thick as a politician’s hide. It took six months to pour the concrete, two months to erect the walls, with the use of a 100 tonne crane. Without the air-conditioning on, the winery sits at 16° all year round. With the air-conditioning on, they can drop it down to 10° rapidly. (This is beneficial during the winemaking process.) David said, “There is complete respect for the wine and the maturation process, in a temperature controlled environment.”
David only makes the single vineyard wines on site himself. The rest of the wines are made by Kate Goodman at Punt Road. Why you may ask: simply because David cannot do everything himself. Once the wines have been made, they come back to the winery for maturation, were David take care of them.
David knows his territory intimately. He first planted vines here in 1976 when he was still at school. There is one salient point that I have failed to mention through this whole story, and it would be remiss of me if I didn't. The love of things French goes further than just Le Frog Citroen. It extends to the style of their wines, and this is pivotal in what David is trying to achieve. When we were talking about Pinot and the desire to improve quality, there were numerous references to Burgundy. When the subject came to Cabernet, Bordeaux kept on rearing its expensive head, and when Shiraz was mentioned, the comparisons were not with the Barossa but with the Rhone. Towards the end of the tasting, David said, "As one matures ones palate matures too. Your palate starts looking for finer things. The wines we present represent the evolution of my palate and of my family's palate.”
The wines that David makes are not French imitators, he is way too smart to do that, realising that the Australian conditions are completely different. In the 1970’s and early1980s, when Australia was trying to make French look-alike wines, many of them were green and not particularly pleasant. In his strive to make elegant wines (that are not wimpy,) by employing the virtues of commendable viticultural practices, David has managed to achieve his objectives whilst maintaining perfect ripeness.
Despite David not providing a four-wheel-drive Dune Buggy to take us through the vineyards, I actually had a thoroughly enjoyable time. The trip through the vineyard was enlightening and was the only way in which David’s philosophy could be adequately explained. When it comes to growing his grapes and making his wine, to say that David is an anal perfectionist would be an understatement, and I say that in the most complimentary way possible. When it comes to Dalwhinnie, I doubt that David knows the meaning of the word compromise.
I am always happy to drink any Dalwhinnie wines. I have never had a bad one. Ever. I distinctly remember having a 1992 Moonambel Shiraz, and although that was generally regarded as a poor vintage, the wine was stunning. The single vineyard wines are not inexpensive, but they are top-quality wine and made in very limited quantities, so David will have no trouble selling them. The house style is 100% consistent across the range, and has been for years. The drive towards elegance is paying dividends and the wines improve slowly year on year. What more can you want!
Previously I had mentioned that it was usually a long drive from one winery to the next. Taltarni is an exception as it is right next door to Dalwhinnie. The first vines were planted in 1969 and the current owner took over in 1972. The winery has always had a strong French influence. The primary grapes grown are the five Bordeaux red varieties plus Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay etc. As well as their acreage in the Pyrenees, they also have a large holding in Tasmania. There are now nineteen wines under the Taltarni brand.
I drank Taltarni's wines for many years, but when their level of elegance resulted in wines that were so elegant I couldn’t tell the difference between them and cask wine with ice, I stopped buying them. A few years ago their reputation started taking a turn for the better. Friends were starting to say positive things about Taltarni. It was with this in mind that I wanted to try them again. In any winery, its amazing how one person can make an enormous difference, even if it is a reasonably sized organisation. In this case that person is Loïc Le Calvez, (no prizes for guessing he is French,) Taltarni & Clover Hill Senior Winemaker and Oenologist who is now into his sixth vintage with Taltarni.
Taltarni 2005 Three Monks Cabernet Merlot sells for $24 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet was slightly volatile and showed plum. A medium-weight, supple wine with an open structure and uncomplicated level of complexity, it's an inoffensive, acceptable bistro wine. It maintains a sweet flavour profile with plum, blackberry and chocolate. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Taltarni 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The first bottle was corked and that sent the person serving us into a flap. In fairness, she didn't normally work cellar door but she had enough nous to ask to get the winemaker to get his ass over to cellar door to handle these difficult wine wankers. The winemaker checked the wine, pronounced it sound, but after much prodding, to humour me opened another bottle. There was a marked difference between the two, and Loïc then agreed he had missed the cork taint on the first one. The bouquet showed tomato leaf, earthy notes and vanillin oak. A lean, soft, seamless wine with a harmonious complexity, this wine will appeal to "refined wine drinkers" (or is that drinkers of refined wine) and is food friendly. Minimal tannins back the juicy-fruit which is driving the wine and delivers sweet, strawberry fruit with a contrasting savoury, spicy finish. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Taltarni 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The wine was released in December and has almost sold out. It is available in North America but not Europe. The first bottle opened was corked. The second showed earthy characters, tobacco leaf and hints of eucalyptus on the nose. At first, it seems that the fleshy, juicy fruit is driving the wine but it’s deceptively well-balanced. The fine, dusty tannins slowly creep up on you. It’s ample-weight with a well-developed complexity and is much better than the 2002. This wine will improve and is a veritable baby. The plum, black cherry, dark chocolate and eucalyptus flavours are layered on top of the tannins which crawl across the palate and build, and build, holding the flavour and providing a reasonably persistent finish. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, I am not surprised it is almost sold out. It should reach its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2015.
Taltarni 2004 Pyrenees Shiraz sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet was slightly volatile and showed mocha, spice, blueberry and earthy mushroom notes. A medium-weight, supple wine with an almost seamless and very elegant structure this is an easy-drinking bistro wine. Red berry fruit with blueberry and mocha flavours finish fresh and clean. Rated as Recommended with ** for value.
Taltarni 2005 Heathcote Shiraz sells for $40 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet was tight. James Halliday will love this wine. Silky tannins combine with fresh, crisp acid to produce a modern, clean Australian wine with a fresh fruit finish. Black cherry, mocha, blackberry, and dried herbs on the finish proved to be a harmonious combination. It's ample-weight, supple and tight; this baby needs time to show its best. The wine has a lot of positives, but unfortunately from my perspective, I find it lacking interest, but others will love it. I rate it as Recommended with ** for value, but the rating will improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2018.
Taltarni 2002 Cephas is a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet and sells for $48 at cellar door; it is sealed under cork. A well-balanced, very clean wine that is backed by deceptive, very fine, tight, chewy tannins. Sour cherry, milk chocolate, and blueberry flavours present a sweet and savoury layered profile that finishes long, clean and dry. Its medium-weight with a supple consistency, an elegant structure and a harmonious complexity; it's a food friendly and whilst it is approachable now, it should still have room to improve in the short term. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between around 2010 and 2016. It's a cerebral wine that requires thought to get the most from it.
Seeing a line up of wines such as this is most interesting. The impact of the new winemaker and his change in style is profound. It’s a dramatic improvement over the Taltarni wines that were produced in the 90’s and the early part of this decade.
You may have noticed that in one of the pictures taken at Dalwhinnie, David must have realised I was in need of sustenance and brought out a huge cheese plate. The drooling would have been a dead give away. Naturally I did not try any of the cheese until I had completed tasting the wines. By then we were all was well and truly ready for a snack. We hoed into the platter, so lunch was not a great concern and we topped up our caffeine levels with a good espresso at Taltarni. However we did need something to eat as it would be around eight before we sat down for dinner. There is not a huge choice of places to eat in Avoca, but the selection is better than Great Western. Not difficult at all. We did stop for a quick snack, but I failed to record the details. (Brian’s comment: That is because it was pies at Pyrenees Pies. Ric Responds: Bloody hell. No wonder I wanted to forget. )
Chapter Two Continued Here
Copyright © Ric Einstein 2008