The Bigot Bros™ Turbocharged 2008 Victorian Tour – Chapter Four
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Day Three – Saturday – Heathcote
Heathcote and Bendigo used to be one wine region so the two towns/cities are not far apart. According to Halliday's wine companion there are forty-three wineries listed in the Heathcote region. The most famous are Jasper Hill and Wild Duck Creek but there are a number of other very credible wineries too. A fair percentage of them are owned by weekend warriors and are generally not open to the public. The resulting list of wineries we wanted to visit was comfortable and we should be able to be cover them without much time pressure..
We left Bendigo at around 7.30 and nothing was open for breakfast, so we decided to eat in Heathcote. When we arrived in Heathcote Brian immediately spotted a bakery, with signage that extolled the virtues of their meat pies, and naturally he parked right out the front. We both had toasted ham, cheese and tomato croissants. They were a bit sweet but pleasant for a change. At long last, we found somewhere that sold tomato juice. That was the first time we had seen it since leaving Canberra. The coffee was also quite good, so this breakfast, although light and simple, was better than many on the trip. That was the good news. The bad news was there was a ‘real’ restaurant just up the road that we hadn't seen it initially. It looked like it would have been a far better proposition.
When I rang to make an appointment at Jasper Hill, Elva Laughton told me that if possible, Ron normally doesn't work on a Sunday, and likes to have the day off. Could we change the day? Unfortunately for either Ron or us, The Bigots Bros™ were only going to be in town for the day, so either Ron was going to have his peace and quiet wrecked, or we were going to miss out visiting the jewel in the Heathcote crown. By mutual agreement, Elva and I decided that we would mess up the start of Ron’s day and then he could have the rest of the day to get over our visit, and relax and enjoy himself.
When we met the usual round of shaking hands took place. After Brian and Ron had shaken hands, they decided to do it again. They looked like a couple of demented Masons involved in some exotic ritual that outsiders couldn't understand. It looked very bloody strange. It turns out that both of them have Dupuytren's Contracture which is a genetic condition that is only found in those of Nordic extraction, even if that extraction was centuries ago (those Vikings got around a lot of places). The condition, which can/often causes one or more fingers to curl up, and it cannot be straightened other than by surgery. Then it got worse. They started comparing notes about their operations and banging on about the pain. It was worse than listening to a bunch of old women talking about the terrible pain they endured during childbirth, and about as exciting too. A fellow could have died of boredom listening to these two, and what's more, we were wasting valuable tasting time. I was just starting to fall asleep on my feet, or perhaps it was my snoring, but they finally remembered what we were here for, and started talking about wine.
The winery was established in 1975, so the Laughtons have had time to work out what they are doing, and they are doing it well. The wines are unashamedly big, but Ron strives for balance in his wines.
Talk to anyone about Heathcote Shiraz and the subject of the unique character of the Cambrian soil will always arise. Five hundred million years ago, and that's not exactly yesterday, the Cambrian rocks that had been formed slowly started to weather. It took a mere four hundred million years to break down to the point where they could be called soil. This ancient and unique soil is not even found throughout the Heathcote region. In point of fact, it only covers a very small part of the region. It starts about 5 km south of the Heathcote town centre and extends north for approximately 35 km. At its widest point it's only about 2 km in width. This map details the band. The majority of the Jasper Hill’s vines are grown on this band of precious soil.
Although I have been to the property previously, I had never actually been inside the winery. Given this establishmen’ts big reputation, the winery itself is quite small. Big rep; small building! Speaking about small, the 2007 vintage was decimated by frost. That's unusual for this location. However, Jasper Hill fared well in comparison to most of the other wineries in the region. Many of them weren't just decimated, they were completely wiped out. Like many of the wineries we walked into, there were loads of brand-new, unused barrels sitting there gathering dust. Readers may not realise that wineries have to place orders for their barrels way in advance of harvest, so if their weather predictions decide not to cooperate, they can either have too many, or insufficient barrels.
Over the years I have noticed when opening up Jasper Hill wines, many of them open up with a bit of a meaty, varnish-like bottle stink that usually blows off. The aroma is distinctive, indeed almost unmistakable. Brian and I discussed this the previous evening. Brian's theory was that the wines were probably made with oxidative handling. We asked Ron about it and Brian's analysis was correct. Ron intentionally tries to get a fair level of air into the wine whilst it's being made. The wine spends six weeks on skins, and according to Ron, that gives it a marc (grappa) like character.
At most wineries when trying barrel samples, as soon as the wine is removed the bung is immediately slammed back into the hole. Not here. Ron carefully and deliberately placed the bung next to the hole, and left the wine exposed to the air whilst we tasted the samples. At the conclusion of the tasting, the bungs went back in.
The style of Jasper Hill wines are suited to cork and Ron spends a fortune on them. Its corks are certainly longer than most. If a customer does experience a corked bottle of wine, in most instances Ron is able to replace the wine with the same vintage. The grapes are grown organically and Ron does not believe in using chemicals in the vineyard. “Our wines are designed to last up to twenty or even thirty years. I don't want them being in contact with a piece of synthetic after producing such a natural product.” Ron also told us that the glue in Diam, as far as he was concerned, was a possible source of contamination in the wine and one that was best avoided.
When I asked if the wines were filtered or fined, I received an unexpected response. "I don't even rack. You could say I don't filter, but I do. In other words, I can't run the risk of a piece of oak from the barrel, or even a dead mouse finding its way into the bottle. As the wine goes to the filling machine it goes through a very, very coarse strainer.
Anyone who doesn't filter in some way is running a hell of a risk in the market. Imagine what would happen if a dead mouse was actually found in a bottle of wine. The wineries reputation would be ruined.”
Ron decided to get his own back on me for interrupting his Sunday by opening a bottle of c-though and insisting that I try it. Oh well, I had not used any Listerine that morning so what the heck; Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling is just as good.
The entire (miniscule) 2007 production for Jasper Hill
Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock 2006 Shiraz sells for $70 to $80 and is sealed under cork. The aromatics are delightful with floral characters and lots of fresh fruit below. The wine is as comfortable as an old pair of slippers; it sits in the mouth beautifully. The strong, deep fruit is fantastic and delivers primarily off-sweet characters with black cherry, milk and dark chocolate, blueberry, and liquorice flavours. The very fine, dusty tannins support an incredibly long finish. It's a full-bodied wine with a supple consistency, a solid structure and a harmonious complexity. It's perfectly structured. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, the rating may improve when it enters its peak drinking window between 2014 and 2024.
Jasper Hill 2006 Emily's Paddock sells for $90 to $120 and is sealed under cork. Although the quality was obvious and the bouquet showed subtle perfumed soap like characteristics, the bouquet was basically closed down. Loads of fine, tight, dusty, drying tannins are well matched to the deep, persistent fruit. A very tightly structured wine, the palate is also closed down and the fruit is buried by the tannins at present. Black cherry/berry, dried herbs, chocolate/mocha and more dark chocolate flavours are evident. It's a muscular-weight wine with a sophisticated complexity; but it’s buried in a deep, deep, hole. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value at the moment, the rating should improve significantly as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2014 and 2024.
Occams 2006 Razor Shiraz sells for around $35 to $40 and is sealed under cork. The wine is made by Ron's daughter Emily. The bouquet shows blackberry with some bottle stink and reductive notes. The wine has terrific power for its ample weight, and the tannins slowly creep down the palate and drag the fruit along for the ride. Blackberry, black cherry, tar, and dried herb flavours finish long and dry. It's a tight wine with a supple consistency and well-developed complexity; rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
Ron is manic about the quality of the wine he releases. For example, in 2006 his Grenache, in his opinion, was a terrific wine, but it was a little volatile and the style of the wine was more like a McLaren Vale Grenache than a Heathcote Grenache. The wine was not released. Not even as a clean skin. It wasn't even bottled.
The wines are big, unashamedly so. Yet they are not alcoholic fruit bombs. They are balanced and have the ability to age and improve. I had a 92 Emily's not that long ago and was gorgeous.
Most good winemakers believe in doing as little as possible to the wine, believing that the wine is made in the vineyard. Start off with good grapes and you have a chance of ending up with good wine. Winemaking is an interventionalist process, but the best winemakers believe in intervening as little as possible, letting the fruit, the seasons, and the terrior speak for itself. This is Ron's philosophy.
We tasted through many barrel samples. The range of samples was certainly diverse; much more diverse than I would have expected from a winery of this size. During our conversation with Ron, or when tasting the finished wine, or the samples, two things were as clear as polished crystal; the emphasis on quality and the attention to detail. A winery like Jasper Hill did not develop its reputation by accident. It's the attention to the smallest detail, and its emphasis on quality, are two of the foundation stones upon which this winery’s reputation has been built.
Ron is a man that loves making wine and in his own words, he can't imagine a time when he is not doing it. Given his daughters’ involvement in the business, it will be interesting to see how long it will take before the girls can exert more influence and have greater control in the day-to-day winemaking and running of the business. With another generation ready to take over, the winery should be in good hands.
After we left Jasper Hill, we figured we had just enough time to visit the Heathcote II winery up at the north end of the region, at Toolleen. In the Halliday Companion it is advertised as being open between 10 and 5 on Saturday and Sunday. It took us about 20 minutes to drive there only to find that it was not open because they had sold out. That was disappointing, but understandable, as I this is the first time it has happened. It will be interesting to see if they make any adjustments in next year's Companion; like ring first.
Four years ago, when I first walked in their door, I had never heard of a Munari so had no expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by this unassuming winery. They produced good gear. Since my first visit I have tried a number of samples and my opinion has not altered. Both Brian and I were looking forward to another visit.
They started making wine in 1996 and have been doing good things ever since. The emphasis is on Shiraz although some of their other varieties can be very credible. The majority of the wines are made from estate grown fruit; however their less expensive wines are made from purchased grapes. Adrian's philosophy is the same as other traditional winemakers: "understand your site, its soil profile, seasonal climate variation, and thus grow the most appropriate varieties." He does that well.
When it comes to closures, the winery has a foot in each camp. The less expensive wines are sealed under screwcap but Adrian still can't bring himself to seal his premiums under screwcap. He fully admits the day will possibly come when that happens, but he is not yet quite convinced that it is the right thing to do for his wines at present. The wines only receive a very coarse filtering, so this strategy may be a sound one.
Munari 2004 Merlot sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. This is a nicely-structured wine with delicate, ripe fruit that is well backed by fine, slightly powdery tannins, and crisp and clean acid. It's off-sweet on the uptake and with cherry, it goes into sweet strawberry, milk chocolate and plum flavours. Almost medium in weight it has a supple consistency, a solid, elegant structure and a diverse complexity. A very drinkable, excellent food wine it is rated as Recommended with *** for value, but the rating should improve in a couple of years. Drink over the next five plus years.
The next wine is named after their daughter, and their son Beauregard, has a Shiraz named after him too.
Munari 2004 India Red Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The aroma of blackberry and coffee on the nose makes the wine see more like a dry red than a varietal Cabernet. A well-structured wine with a pleasant mouth feel, it is medium weight with a supple consistency, a solid, tight and elegant structure and just needs time to show its best. Ripe, juicy berries deliver blackberry, blackcurrant, rich chocolate, and a touch of funk adds complexity. An interesting drop that is worth buying; it’s rated as Recommended with *** for value, but the rating should increase as the wine enters its peak drinking window around 2010.
Munari 2004 The Ridge Shiraz sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. It’s made from non-estate, dry grown, cool climate fruit. The bouquet has an interesting slightly earthy funk but it does not show on the palate. The pure fruit delivers loads of black pepper, blackcurrant, plum and cedar which finish clean, dry and with good persistence. The tannins are deceptively unobtrusive, but they are certainly there. It's a medium-weight, supple wine that shows a modicum of elegance and is diverse. It's very drinkable for the price. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it's ready to drink now.
Munari Lady’s Pass 2005 Shiraz sells for $40 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. It now spends two years in oak, rather than one, and has only just been released. The bouquet shows noticeably tasty, vanillin oak over the dark fruit characters. A solid, well-structured wine that is belligerently tight; it is backed by fine, powdery tannins, and perfectly balanced to youthful, fresh acid and pure, deep fruit. It's an ample-weight, firm and solid wine that needs time, and will improve. The tantalising, sweet fruit is bloody lovely and delivers plum, loads of mint, and is enough to manage the toasty oak. The tannins pull the flavours through the palate and finish with terrific persistence. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine reaches its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2016.
We couldn’t spend as long as would have liked at Munari, but as expected we were impressed with what we found. Year on year, the wines are slowly improving and show excellent regional typicity. In the last four years, the quality of the oak has improved and the brute force of the wine has been toned down. The wines are all the better for it.
The next winery on the list was another winery I knew very little about. My research showed Downing Estate should be worth visiting and so I had made an appointment. This is another winery that shows conflicting information about their opening times. Their website states “Cellar Door Sales & Wine Tasting Weekends and Public Holidays. All Other Times Welcome By Appointment.” In Halliday's Companion it states they are open by appointment.
The winery is owned by Bob and Joy Downing. The vineyard was established in 1994. It's located almost directly across the road from Jasper Hill.
After passing through the gates, we drove past the front of the house and around to the side. The house is built into the side of a hill which enabled them to build the cellar door and wine storage facility below the house. The place was spotless, but then it isn't a working winery. According to Bob, he is not a winemaker and would rather have somebody competent making his wines, than risk buggering it up himself. (Does that mean he is quite happy to have somebody else bugger it up for him!!) The fruit is shipped from the estate to Mitchelton where it is made by Don Lewis. Bob buys the barrels and they are also shipped to Mitchelton so he has a fair amount of input into the way the wine is made.
As you walk in, you walk past pallets of their own wine and on the right is the tasting area. At the back of the facility is the most interesting area of the lot. Bob's personal cellar. He doesn't have a cellar palate. What he does have is a personal collection of fine quality wines. A man could get lost in there for a month or two and walk out very happy. And pissed.
In the early part of the conversation Bob said, "So, what would you like to taste? Our current releases are and 03 Shiraz, and 04 Merlot, and the 04 Cabernet. If you are desperate, we can taste everything up to, and including, the 06.” That's us, a couple of wine desperates. Bob is just lucky we weren't banging on his door at 7 a.m.
We were warned that the 2006's were likely to be suffering from bottle shock as they were only bottled a week previously.
Downing Estate 2004 Merlot sells for $39 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows pleasant, perfumed plum and musk aromatics together with coffee. The powdery tannins, fresh acid and distinct fruit come together to form a just ample-weight, well-structured wine that is firm and solid. It's savoury and off-sweet with cherry, plum, and milk chocolate flavours that finish with reasonable persistence. Rated as Recommended with ** for value, the rating should increase as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2014.
With the 2005 vintage, the winery converted to screwcaps.
Downing Estate 2005 Merlot is sealed under screwcap and will sell for $39 when it is released in September. The wine was bottled approximately 13 months ago. The bouquet was earthy and showed hints of oxidative handling/varnished characters. The powdery tannins currently bury the distinct fruit but the structure indicates this is a serious Merlot. Just medium-weight with a firm consistency, it’s tight, elegant and solid. It's off-sweet with sour cherry, plum, milk chocolate, and oregano on the finish. Rated as Recommended with ** for value, the rating should increase as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2011 and 2016.
There was no 2006 Merlot made. There was also no 2003 Cabernet made as they didn't have sufficient quantity. No one could ever accuse the Downing’s of over-cropping the Cabernet. It normally comes in at between one third and one half of a ton per acre. Ridiculous? The problem is water. If they don't get it, and it's been in short supply lately, the cropping levels are extremely low.
Even the Shiraz, which is a lot more vigorous than the Cabernet has a low cropping level. It's between 1.25 and 1.75 tonnes to the acre. Although there is a dam on the property, they have not been able to turn the pump on since February 2002. Bore water is a theoretical option, although according to Bob, in this region after three years of use, it goes saline.
Downing Estate 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $39 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is expressive, fruit driven and shows juicy, berry fruit. Pure fruit combines with fresh acid and fine powdery tannins to form a well-structured and balanced, ample-weight, firm and tight wine that has an agreeable complexity. It's a lovely wine with bright, juicy fruit that is well balanced by fine tannins and finishes clean. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating does not do it justice as the wine has a mile of potential, and the rating should be significantly higher whilst it in its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2019. (It's currently short on the palate and needs time to fill out.)
Downing Estate 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is sealed under screwcap and due for release in September. The freshly opened bottle had a bouquet that wasn't; it was totally closed. Thankfully the palate showed significantly more. Although the pure, deep, strong fruit is currently buried by the fine, powdery tannins, the fruit has fantastic intensity. The fruit is not as generous as the 2004 and the tannins are more noticeable, but this wine is still more forward. It's a muscular-weight, firm wine that is tight and has a well-developed complexity. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window in a few years time.
Downing Estate 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is sealed under screwcap and currently has no scheduled release date, it will probably be some time late 2009. The wine contains eleven percent Merlot. We were seeing this wine at its worst as it had just been bottled. It is very similar to the 2004. Deep, pure, ripe fruit is solidly and firmly supported by the long tannins that enables the wine to finish clean, long and persistent. Flavours of plum, black cherry, mocha and mint are attractive. A damn good wine that just needs time, it is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, but the rating should increase as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2014 and 2022.
Downing Estate 2003 Shiraz is sealed under cork and sells for $39 at cellar door. The bouquet was bright and lively showing coffee oak over dark fruit. Loads of fine, powdery, long tannins provide firm and solid support for the rich, ripe fruit. A well-balanced, ample-weight wine and a good result for the vintage, it is more than credible. Plum, blackcurrant, mocha, dark chocolate and mint on the tail, completes the package. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, drink from 2010 to 2015.
Downing Estate 2004 Shiraz is sealed under cork and will cost $39 from the winery when it is released in May. The oak influence is noticeable but there should be sufficient fruit to be able to absorb it in time. The bouquet shows charry oak over Satsuma plum and vanilla. Fine, powdery tannins combine with youthful acid and distinct, deep fruit to form an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, a solid and tight structure, but it needs time for the fruit to surface. Plum, charry oak, vanilla and mint flavours finish with good persistence. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
Downing Estate 2005 Shiraz is sealed under screwcap and currently has no scheduled release date; it will probably be some time in the middle of 2009. This vintage is very similar on the bouquet to its predecessor, but is more floral and lifted, with less overt oak influence. The pure, lovely, juicy-fruit delivers cherry, plum, mocha, and mint flavours. It's cleverly constructed with fine, powdery, long, drying tannins with fresh acid, and these support an ample-weight, firm wine that is harmonious already. There is more than enough fruit to absorb the oak. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating will improve to Excellent as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2011 and 2017.
Downing Estate 2006 Shiraz is sealed under screwcap and has no scheduled release date as yet. The wine had been bottled less than a week ago; it was muted and shocked so we were seeing it at its worst. Pure, deeply-seated, strong fruit combines with fine, long, powdery tannins to form a well-structured and balanced, ample-weight, firm and solid wine that is almost seamless already. Bloody amazing! With a huge fruit punch, palate flavours of plum, dark chocolate, liquorice and mint ensures this will be a damn good wine when it gets a little bottle age under its cap. Rated as Excellent with **** for value; I wouldn't be surprised if the rating improved as it entered its peak drinking window between 2015 and 2023.
The opened bottles of wine are stored under an electronic vacuum system to keep them fresh. Take some wine out of the bottle and it is electronically vacuum sealed straightaway. Unlike other systems, it doesn't use nitrogen to keep the wine fresh, but given the debate about hand vacuum pumps potentially stripping out the aroma, I don't know what to make of this system. In theory it's great, but in practice when the machine is doing its thing, the mechanisms sounds like an elephant with flatulence. I can just visualise this scenario. Imagine walking into the winery, walking up to the counter and trying a wine for the first time. Unfortunately the wine is defective and stinky. As you take the first sniff, the nitrogen mechanism goes off and you cop a nose full of stink. WTF is that? Where are they hiding the elephant?
The visit to Downing Estate was a positive encounter. Without exception, the wines were all well-made. More importantly, each label was incredibly consistent. The vintage influence was apparent in each of the wines. Yet they were all very similar. You could see the consistency of the winemaking. Just as easily, you could see the consistency of viticulture. The weight of fruit and tannins may have varied, and the order in which the fruit flavours were presented may have differed, but it was easy to tell that they all came from the same fruit source and had been made in the same fashion. That is smart viticulture and smart winemaking. How smart is the winemaking? Very!
One of the wines was slightly inconsistent because Don had used American oak rather than French oak. That was no accident or mistake. When making the wine, Don realised that the traditional French oak would not have suited the particular wine, so rather than being locked into formula winemaking, he spoke to Bob and between them they decided that American oak was the best option for this particular wine. Like I said; smart. If you always do what's best for the wine, and you start off with good grapes, you should wind up with a consistently good product. Downing Estate achieves that objective.
Generally speaking, the wines are not bargains but they certainly represent quality and are reasonable value. This is especially so when you consider that most of the wines being released are around four years of age. There is nothing like consistency to build long time trust between the consumer and the winery.
That was the end of our appointments for the day so we were able to free wheel from here on. We first tried the wine from Flynns Wines at the last Wine Australia in 2006. The winery is owned by Greg and Natalia Flynn. Greg looks after the vineyard and the winemaking whilst Natalia is in charge of the restaurant. However, as you will see later in the story Natalia is allowed to do other things, even work in the vineyard, when Greg tells her it's okay. I wonder if Natalia allows Greg into the kitchen?
Like many of the wineries in this region, water is a problem. This winery only receives about 23 inches of rain a year, and that's in a good year. The vineyard is located in the Cambrian soil belt and the clay subsoil assists in holding moisture. Also like many wineries in this region 2007 was a shocker for them. The entire production was seventeen barrels of wine.
Flynns 2005 Cabernet Merlot is a 50-50 blend; it sells at $30 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet showed mint, eucalyptus and mushroom characters. Powdery tannins combined with crisp acid and distinct fruit to form an ample-weight, firm and solid wine with an agreeable complexity. Blackcurrant, eucalypt, mushroom and other black flavours come together to form a wine that is okay, but it doesn't do much for me. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Flynns 2005 Sangiovese sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. Only hundred and ten dozen have been made and the wine was cropped at 1.5 tonnes to the acre. The bouquet shows sour cherry and spice. Fine, tight tannins combine with fresh, crisp acid to form a lean, supple wine that is harmonious and agreeable. There is loads of fruit flavour for its weight. Dark chocolate, meaty notes and sour cherry combined to form a terrific flavour profile that finishes with excellent persistence. The wine was almost sold out; I am not surprised. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, drink over the next five years.
They currently only have two acres of Sangiovese vines but Greg feels that this area is perfectly suited to the variety. The 2005 was picked with a Baumé of 13° and a pH of around 3.4 and the wine that was fermented with indigenous, self-inoculating yeast. The yield wasn't exactly high and they were struggling to harvest as many grapes as possible. They were struggling with the weather and trying to get the last of the grapes to ripen. By this stage they had already completed four picks. At the very end, they still had four rows that had not been picked. Greg sent Natalia out into the vineyard with a refractometer. She measured the sugar level in every single vine. Those that were ripe enough had a red mark sprayed on their trunk. The extra seventy vines yielded an extra barrel of wine. By that stage, everything had been cleaned up and put away. Naturally Greg didn't want to have to dirty all the equipment for the sake of one extra barrel of wine. So what did he do?
The grapes were placed in a plastic ferment and Greg took his shoes and socks off, and hopped in. He jumped up and down like a demented Greek widow because those grapes were bloody cold but he was also shouting with joy as the grapes swished and slopped beneath his smelly feet. All that extra work for one barrel of wine! That's dedication. Or madness!
Flynns 2005 MC Shiraz is sealed under screwcap and sells for $33. The wine is sourced from nine-year-old vines; they use multiple clonal varieties and the vines have been cropped at two tonnes to the acre. The bouquet shows earthy, spicy notes together with mushroom compost. On the palate, the vibrant fruit is doing all the talking with a huge amount of blackberry, mint, a hint of eucalyptus, noticeable chocolate and spicy oak. (Forty percent is new, half American and half French.) It finishes long and persistent. Solidly backed by fine, tight, drying tannins, this muscular-weight wine has a supple consistency and is an appealing baby. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2017.
Flynns 2005 Lewis Rd Shiraz sells for $21 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet showed mushroom and earthy notes together with blackberry. There is less noticeable oak in this wine and the fruit is doing all the talking. The pure fruit traverses the palate and finishes clean and bright, and is excellent for the price point. It's ample-weight with a supple consistency, solid structure and very agreeable complexity. The tannins are smooth and unobtrusive. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it's ready to drink now.
The magic hour of hamburger o'clock was upon us; in fact it was well past it, so whilst we were tasting the last of the wines we ordered lunch. Turns out it wasn't hamburger o'clock it was actually pie o'clock. The restaurant sold real pies, the ones baked in ramekins with crusty, flaky pastry on top. Their meat was so tender it was falling apart. It had loads of tomato flavour and a lavish amount of reduced red wine to give it a divine richness. The crisp hat of pastry was perfect for dipping into the sauce. For a change, we weren't rushing to go somewhere, and we didn't have a list of wineries a mile long to visit, so we decided to relax over lunch and enjoy a glass of wine. No prizes for guessing which wine we chose.
There are three wineries in this region that have the word Heathcote in their name. In alphabetical order, the first is Heathcote Estate which has an address in South Yarra and is not open to the public. The second is Heathcote II which unfortunately was closed, so my favourite, the original and best, Heathcote Winery still remains at the top of this list and that's not because there is no competition. They happen to make very credible wine. The cellar door is located in the main street of Heathcote, obviously to attracted tourists, but even if the 1854 "Thomas Craven built store looks a bit like one, the place is anything but a tourist trap. Their reds are amongst my favourite from this region. What's more, they can frequently be found on special and when they are, they represent excellent value.
The winery was established in 1978, and that makes it one of the first in the region. It was started by Stephen Wilkins in partnership with a bunch of his piss-pot, wine drinking mates. Over the years, naturally enough, they have had a number of winemakers employed, the current winemaker Rachel Brooker, looks like a good one even if she is a Kiwi.
They have fourteen hectares of vines seven kilometers South of Heathcote and a further four hectares 3 kilometers north of Heathcote. Being sensible people, the majority of the vines are Shiraz, although they do grow some c-through, of which about two and a half hectares is that weed that is commonly known as Viognier.
Like Downing Estate, the wines are stored under a system to keep them fresh. Unlike Downing Estate, the Heathcote Winery purchased the nitrogen injection system which doesn't have the built in elephant flatulence. When I tasted the first glass of wine, it was oxidised. When I politely told a lady who was looking after us that I thought it was oxidised, I received another one of those ‘and what part of outer space did you come from’ looks. I am becoming quite fond of them. Although she didn't exactly agree with me, she decided to go out the back to get a second opinion. When she came back, she told us that the boss agreed that it was oxidised. At that point, I gave her my card and asked her to give it to Stephen.
Now that's what I call a pie! Good stuff from Flynns................................
There are a couple of things here that are worth mentioning. Firstly, as far as our server was concerned we were just another couple of punters, and even though the wines were sealed under screwcap, stored under nitrogen, and it was pretty obvious she thought I was loony tunes, she had enough sense to get another opinion. That's good stuff. The second point is that even when wines are sealed under screwcap and stored under nitrogen, the wine can still not be showing the way the winemaker intended. That is a valuable lesson that should be taught to all winery staff.
Heathcote Winery 2005 Slaughterhouse Shiraz sells for $40 and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is unusual but attractive and shows spice, menthol and eucalyptus characters. Fine, tight, powdery tannins and fresh acid combine with strong, deep, persistent fruit to form an ample-weight, firm wine that has a diverse complexity. It's well structured. A powerful punch of fruit delivers blackberry, black cherry, tar, menthol, eucalyptus, and aniseed flavours that finish long and persistent. An absolute baby that is worth buying! Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value (based on the recommended price) but it would receive **** for value on the street price of about $35. Best drinking from 2013 to 2020.
Heathcote Winery 2006 Mail Coach Shiraz is sealed under screwcap and will be released in May. The bottle had just been opened and was tight but it showed signs of pleasant, perfumed floral aromatics. Delicious, juicy-fruit with loads of fresh flavour is bright and perfectly matched to the dusty tannins. Cherry, milk chocolate, dark chocolate and mint flavours finish long, fresh and clean. It's medium-weight with a supple consistency and a well developed complexity. A step up over the 2005, it is approachable now but will improve and soften with time. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, based on the street price of between $25 and $30.
I did try one other wine but did not write it up for two reasons. Firstly it was just about sold out, and secondly although it was a very enjoyable wine it lacked palate length. I discussed this with Stephen and that was why he opened up the 2006 Mail Coach Shiraz for me to taste. He completely agreed with my comment on the 2005 and wanted my opinion to see if they had improved it in 2006. They had. They are striving to produce better wine on an ongoing basis. Length on the palate is only one aspect they are looking to improve. Another is to try and make the wine slightly more elegant. With this in mind they are moving to French oak exclusively from the 2008 vintage. Only twenty percent of the oak used will be new, so the wines certainly will not be over oaked. Lowering alcohol percentages to below fourteen percent, whilst maintaining the rich, ripe fruit characteristics of the wine, is another objective.
When I asked Stephen if he intended to pick earlier, or lower the cropping levels and change viticultural practices, there was a pregnant pause whilst he thought about his answer. "We have always dropped a bit of fruit and I can't see that having to be increased, so I think we will just pick a little bit earlier. We don't have much water around here and we have had a couple of tough seasons. Both 05 and 07 were very tough. There is always the age-old question; we have got the Beaumé right but have we got flavour ripeness? I think we need to be brave enough to pick a little bit earlier. We need to know our fruit well enough to know it may not be completely blowing our minds in the vineyard but that it will be fine when processed; and we also need to be able to tell where that fruit will go before it is actually picked. I am prepared to admit that because of the difficult seasons in the last few years, we have probably picked a little late. But our philosophy is not to do that any more.
By accident, it is very easy to make Baumé levels and ripeness your philosophy and get hung up on it, to the point of even waiting until the stalks are the right colour.
In Heathcote we talk about our wines being elegant but over the last few years we have been guilty of going the same way as the Barossa. We need to make sure we don't do that any more.”
Heathcote Winery is another one of those places, and unfortunately there are not too many of them, were I know that if buy one of their wines, I will always be satisfied. And you can't ask for much more than that!
An E Type Jag and a Cortina GT - One classic and one with delusions of adequacy.
Motel accommodation in the Heathcote area is almost impossible to find. There are loads of B&Bs and farm stay places, but not the sort of accommodation that Brian and I would normally look for, so finding the right sort of accommodation for us is not easy. In reality there is no choice. But there is one a very good option, the Emeu Inn. I discovered this little gem on my last visit and was looking forward to staying here again. It's not exactly inexpensive, but for what you get it's not overpriced.
On the average Sunday night, this place is not exactly jumping, so obtaining accommodation was no problem. Its located right next door to the Heathcote Winery cellar door, so whilst we were in the vicinity, we checked into the Emeu.
If you want the goss of who’s up who and who's paying the rent in Heathcote, Leslye is the person to speak to. Nothing happens in that town without her knowledge. She also knows what's going on behind the scenes in the wine business. Her husband Fred is the chef, and a fine one at that! It’s great to be able to eat a pleasant dinner, have a few glasses of wine, and then stumble about ten metres to bed.
We continued our trip south to Tooborac. Shelmerdine is a highly rated winery that also has vineyards in the Yarra Valley. They currently have a range of ten wines, five of which are red. They have a hundred and thirty ha of vineyards so they are not exactly a tiny player. The wines are made at De Bortoli.
Shelmerdine 2006 Yarra Pinot sells for $33 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet showed varietal Pinot characters with black cherry. Unobtrusive tannins combine with racy acid and deep, persistent fruit to form a lean, solid and firm wine that is credible and very drinkable. Sour cherry, milk chocolate, and tar flavours finish with good persistence and punch. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Shelmerdine 2005 Heathcote Shiraz sells for $34 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet had a slight amount of interesting funk as well as subtle earthy characters and spice. Powdery, drying tannins combine with fresh and crisp acid, and deeply-seated fruit to form a lean, firm, elegant wine with an agreeable complexity. Blackberry and dark chocolate flavours dominate the palate. You'll need to like "refined elegant" wines to enjoy this one. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, it's ready to drink now.
Shelmerdine 2006 Cabernet is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet was bright and dusty; as it opened up it revealed blackberry which started to be dominated by toasty oak. Fierce, drying tannins combine with fresh and lively acid, as well as deeply-seated fruit to form a medium-weight, very firm but elegant wine. It needs ages for the fruit to surface from below the tannins, assuming there is sufficient fruit to last. Not sure how to rate this one is it will either be very good or very bad.
The wines we found here weren't exactly my favourite style. The results seemed patchy. It is a bit incongruous to go from the refined elegance of the 2005 Shiraz to the fierce tannins of the 2006 Cabernet.
We continued in the south westerly direction towards Kyneton. The road twists and turns as it meanders its way through the hillside. Rocks and boulders. Boulders and rocks. On our left that's all there is to be seen. Bloody great big grey lumps of granite. On our right the road drops away sharply. About six kilometres from Tooborac we came to McIvor Estate. This was another winery I'd never been to and I can't remember ever having tried any of their wines. The scenery around here is stunning.
This is a mixed farm. Gary and Cynthia Harbor have approximately fourteen acres under vine. Cynthia gave us a warm welcome and took us into the cellar door. Before we got stuck into the wine, Brian got stuck into the olives. Naturally he went for the ones with chilli. I didn't want to mess with my palate so I passed. Their red grape varieties include Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz as well as Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.
McIvor Estate 2004 Cabernet Merlot is sealed under cork and sells for $25 at cellar door. The wine has a "pretty nose" with perfumed musk and vanilla bean. A well-balanced wine with sneaky, soft, unobtrusive tannins that sneak up on you; they produce a supple consistency and attractive plate profile. Plum, blackcurrant and dark chocolate flavours are congenial, and this easy-drinking, approachable, medium-weight wine should become seamless in time. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
McIvor Estate 2004 Shiraz sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The subtle, brooding bouquet opened up to pepper and plum. I would like to know how they get the tannins so soft. The powdery tannins are deceptively fine and combine with fresh acid and deep, strong fruit. It's rich and ripe with dark plum, pepper, dark chocolate and subtle eucalyptus on the tail. It's ample-weight, has a supple consistency, and agreeable yet diverse complexity and it finishes with excellent persistence of flavour. A dangerously easy to drinking wine, there is a touch of warmth on the palate; it's rated Highly Recommended with *** for value and will be best over the next six years.
Unfortunately we only got to try a couple of reds because that was all that was available at the time. The one thing that really impressed me about these wines was the way they had been able to get the tannins so soft and still have wines that retrain structure.
That was the end of the day's formal activities. Although it was still relatively early in the day and we probably could have squeezed in one more winery, we decided to have an early mark. Naturally we had planned to have dinner at the Emeu Inn. Best of all, I had time for forty winks before dinner.
Leslye's hand after opening the Summerfield Indulgence ...............................
Dinner started in a very promising fashion. Not. Bob Downing had been kind enough to give us a bottle of his 2001 Shiraz to try with dinner, but unfortunately when we opened it, it was rank with cork taint. The next sacrifice on the chopping block was one of my favourite wines from a wonderful vintage; Rosemont 1996 Balmoral. This one was rank with the reductive characters. Mark Summerfield had been generous enough to leave a bottle of Summerfield 2001 Indulgence for us. It is not sold commercially; it's only for family and friends. I don't qualify for the former, so for some unknown reason I must qualify as one of the latter. This is a damn fine, impenetrable black wine. The bouquet is earthy and black. When I first tried it, it was a huge wine that was literally bursting with fresh, vibrant fruit. I wondered if I had misread the label and it was a 2004 and not a 2001. The amount of fruit flavour for the weight of the wine is awesome. The tannins have softened nicely and support a fruit wave of 80% Lindt dark chocolate flavour that is longer than a Honolulu pipeline. The flavour profile also includes dark plum and mint. Rated as Excellent with a few extra marks for being special.
I love the bread they serve here. It is so European. The bread roll was so brown it was almost black and made in typical Austrian fashion.
The canapé was wonderful. It was a Turkey ??? How did they get that much concentrated flavour in such a small serving? They must have reduced a whole turkey!
For a starter, I ordered one of the house specialities, risotto with porcini mushrooms and black truffles. I am normally not a great fan of risotto, but this was simply orgasmic. It had a wonderful intensity of flavour and matched the wine perfectly.
For the heck of it, I took a look at the wine list. It is extensive and would be a credit to any restaurant anywhere. There are even some older bottles, some of which represent very good value. The average mark-up is probably a hundred percent which is about normal for a restaurant of this quality. If you know your wines there are some great options. Some of the local wines have tiny mark-ups; for example one bottle which retails at cellar door from $64 is on the wine list for $75. The glassware is also good. They use the Riedel restaurant series.
Regular readers will be aware and I am very sceptical about wine devices that make all sorts of spurious claims about their ability to improve wine in a magical fashion. The vast majority of these are nothing more than snake oil. So when Leslye showed me the Vignon Decanting Pourer, I thought he we go again. Interestingly enough, on the box of the little device all it says is "the original and patented Vignon Decanting Pourer oxygenates the wine as you pour." Is also has a diagram of how it works. It was refreshing to see a device that wasn't making cockamamie claims, so I wondered if it would do anything to improve the wine at all.
We put it to the test with the Summerfield Indulgence. The wine that this had originally been poured still had a touch of VA. The wine that had been through the device did not, and on the bouquet, and the palate, the wine seemed more open. We also tried it on the next wine too. The Cimicky (98 Signataire, see below) had a fair amount of bottle stink and the device did not reduce it, however it was softer than the wine that was not poured through the device. Although this was only a quick and dirty test, I was reasonably convinced the device actually works. When I got home, I'd bought one so I could give it a complete workout. Many of the reds I now received are sealed under screwcap and as they are so young, they take forever to open up. Anything that will assist in this process, from my perspective, is worthwhile. I have now tried it at home on many wines and am pleased to report that it really does work. It makes those closed wines more approachable when first poured. It costs $79.95 and is available from Make Design Objects. It gets the thumbs up from me.
We also opened a bottle of Charles Cimicky 1998 Shiraz Signataire. It was in fine form. In fact, it was the best bottle I have had from that batch. It just goes to prove the adage about there being no great old wines, just great old bottles. Had we had not drunk this wine, it would have turned into a great old bottle. The wine opened with a bit of bottle stink but it did not show on the palate. The fruit was youthful and fresh and the acid still crisp. The wine filled the mouth completely and finished long, clean, persistent and dry. Flavours of blackberry, dark chocolate and tar were found. Rated as Excellent.
For the main course I ordered the house aged New York sirloin which was 280g of perfectly lean steak that has been grilled rare with green pepper jus and was served with French fries. Chippies! Naughty but yummo. The straw chips were crisp and fresh. If McDonald's could make chips this good, they might actually be worth visiting. The steak was wonderfully soft and the pepper sauce perfect.
The dessert menu is commendable and will capture anyone's attention. There are over a half a dozen cheeses listed, two different types of chocolate deserts, plus other assorted goodies. When I saw "chocolate oblivion" -- a flourless and sugarless Belgian chocolate cake, the auctioneer's gavel banged down and said, "sold to the red bigot with the beard." I ordered a glass of De Bortoli's 2004 Noble One to have with it. Brian ordered the cheese plate. No one can ever accuse us of being inconsistent. If there's chocolate I'll have it, if there's cheese, and it's halfway edible, its Brian's.
My dessert was sickeningly disgusting; pure, unadulterated chocolate and cream with the tiniest hint of chilli. It was presented warm; the chill had just been taken off it, and it literally melted in the mouth. There was a coronary in every mouthful. Brian's cheese serving was huge. The Shadows of Blue triple cream cheese looks like they changed the inoculation as it now resembles a Gorgonzola. There was also a cheddar and according to Brian it had the right amount of crumbliness and was well matured.
The meal was a complete meal and I couldn't fault anything. That’s high praise from me.
If you are going to stay in Heathcote, the Emeu Inn is the place to stay and to eat. Leslye is bright and bubbly. She is also one of those rare people that will try and tailor the stay to each individual person’s unique requirements. Nothing is too much trouble and she goes the extra mile to make the experience as enjoyable as humanly possible. On my previous visit here, they didn't have Internet access generally available, but Leslye let me use her phone line so I could stay in contact. They now have wireless broadband which is great. Even better, it's free. Showing me the decanting device was just another example of the level of service and attention that she gives her clients. If they were ever going to rename this establishment they should change it Oasis.
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