The Bigot Bros™ Turbocharged 2008 Victorian Tour – Chapter Five
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Day Five – Sunday – Heathcote to King Valley
Not wishing to smell like a Pommy migrant, I have a shower every morning. Today was no exception. Well it was in a way. After my shower, I noticed huge red welts all over my body. You would have to be blind, drunk, or blind drunk to miss them. At that hour of the morning, I only qualify for one of those three categories. Luckily the welts were not on my face. They were a bit itchy, and looked bloody awful, and that was the good news. For the life of me, I had no idea, at that stage, what had caused them. (Brian: It took me most of the day to recover from the sight of Ric in his undies at my door showing off his rash!)
A continental breakfast was included in the tariff so we had breakfast at the Emeu Inn. The breakfast selection was good. There were numerous different types of cereal with the choice of milk or yoghurt. There were two different types of juices on the table. Croissants and home-made jams were provided, as well as plunger coffee. Unfortunately you can't have everything, but the quality of the breakfast was unquestionably good. Even if the plunger coffee is always, by definition, questionable!
The rack rate of $150 is not inexpensive, but there is no such thing as inexpensive accommodation in Victoria. Considering the quality of the amenities, the alternatives, and the inclusion of breakfast and free wireless Internet connection, it's not bad value. I would happily stay here again on my next trip.
I would have liked to have found a chemist, but unfortunately there was nothing open so early, so we headed to Nagambie.
The most famous winery in this region is Tahbilk. Its 1860’s Vines Shiraz is testament to age of the place. The site was referred to by local Aboriginals as "tabilk-tabilk" meaning "place of many waterholes" – but that’s not unusual. Many Aboriginal place names have watery connotations. History doesn’t state whether the person who called it “tabilk-tabilk” stuttered. The original winery building was completed in 1860. By 1861, they had almost two hundred acres under vine. In 1875 the "New Cellar" was built. In twelve weeks they managed to excavate the site and move twenty thousand cubic yards of soil by horse drawn cart. Obviously the builders union was not involved. In those days, they built things to last; none of this built-in obsolescence. The walls are three foot thick.
In the late 1800s, things started to go badly wrong. Phylloxera hit the wine industry and the owner of Tahbilk died. Death has an unfortunate way of messing up your ability to run a business. Until 1925 Tahbilk continue to decline slowly. Along came an aristocratic Pom (who became a member of the British House of Commons) by the name of Reginald Purbrick, who bought the property with the idea of subdividing it into dairy farms. Luckily, some of the local cockies were able to convince Reggie- baby that Tahbilk was actually a viable winery, if it was managed correctly. Reggie’s son Eric was born and raised in Melbourne and then moved back to the "old country" with the family in 1921, after his father had sold his profitable Aussie milk business to Nestlé. Old Reggie wanted someone he could trust to manage the tabilk-tabilk winery. In 1925, son Eric was a law and history student at Cambridge University, so he obviously knew a whole lot about winemaking and was excommunicated to the colonies to take over the winemaking and management of the joint. From that day to this, the winery has been under the same family ownership. And what a terrific job they have done in managing the property, maintaining the heritage, and producing some extraordinarily long-lived, reasonably priced, quality wines.
On these trips, sometimes you can get lucky. For example, some years ago I lucked out at Jasper Hill when my appointment coincided with a visit of a foreign journalist. There were about twenty bottles of their wines open for me to try. Today's visit to Tahbilk could almost go into that category. Every two years Tahbilk puts on a week-long museum tasting. We arrived slap bang in the middle of it. There was a list as long as your arm of back vintages to sample. It's a pity we didn't know this event was on because if I had known, I would have arranged things differently and allowed much more time at the winery. We cherry-picked our way through the large selection.
Tahbilk 1985 Shiraz is a back release and sells for $60 at cellar door; it is 12.6% alcohol and is sealed under cork. For its age, the bouquet is amazingly fresh with cherry fruit, spice and some aged characters. Abundant, fine powdery tannins combine with fresh, crisp acid and distinct fruit to form a lean, solid wine with a well-developed complexity. The palate shows leathery, cherry fruit with spice, chocolate and subtle aniseed. It finishes well; with good length and it's clean and dry. For its age, it's in terrific shape and rated as Recommended with ** for value.
Tahbilk 1991 Shiraz is a back release and sells for $45 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. As you would expect a wine of this age, it opened up a bit stinky but had attractive, blackberry fruit below together with spice. Loads of powdery tannins combine with fresh acid and pure fruit to form a medium-bodied wine with a supple consistency and intricate and harmonious complexity. The fruit is still in fine form and the spice, cherry and black flavours finish with good length and persistence. It has loads of life left. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value it should keep kicking quite happily until 2015.
Tahbilk 1994 Shiraz is a back release and sells for $28 at cellar door; it is sealed under cork. This wasn't a great bottle. A lean wine with a firm consistency and solid structure, it is backed by powdery tannins. Sour cherry, milk chocolate and white pepper show on the finish. On the sample I would have to say drink the wine now, and it is rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Tahbilk 1996 Shiraz is a back release and sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The first bottle opened was not sound. The bouquet is subtle and showed blackberry and liquorice. Powdery tannins combine with fresh, crisp acid and pure fruit to form a wine that is just-medium in weight with a supple consistency. In reality this is still just a baby. The fruit is juicy and delivers blackberry, spice and earthy notes which finish with excellent persistence. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it will live quite happily until at least 2016.
Tahbilk 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $65 at cellar door and is a back release. It is sealed under cork. The bouquet was simply delightful and belies its age; it exuded perfumed notes, aniseed and mint. These aromas were replicated on the palate with the addition of milk chocolate and blackcurrant, which finish long, dry and clean. A medium-weight, firm wine that is backed by loads of powdery tannins, the complexity is well developed and diverse. A lovely wine that is still kicking goals, it’s rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
Tahbilk 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $45 at cellar door and is a back release. It is sealed under cork. The bouquet was dusty, varietal and showed multiple spicy notes. This wine will be very long-lived. It still has truckloads of drying, powdery tannins and the deeply-seated, pure fruit is still buried by the tannins. Flavours of blackcurrant, blackberry, spice, and mint flavours finish very dry. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should reach its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2025.
Tahbilk 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $35 at cellar door and is a back release that is sealed under cork. Another bottle of wine that was not a good example and had been ruined by a tree bark plug!
Tahbilk 2005 Heathcote Sparkling Shiraz is available at cellar door only; it sells for $22.95 and is sealed under a Diam cork. The bouquet is intensely spicy with sweet red berry fruit below. The palate shows lovely savoury characters; it's not overly sweet. Spice, mulberry and earthy blackberry flavours finish to aniseed. Its terrific value and worth buying, we did. It's rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Tahbilk 2004 Shiraz sells for $17.95 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows spicy and earthy notes over clean fruit. A well-crafted wine with a very credible structure; the tannins are deceptive and perfectly matched to the fresh acid and deeply-seated fruit. Five spice, aniseed, and dark chocolate flavours finish long and clean. The fruit flavours ride the tannins as they sneak across the palate. It's a medium-weight, firm and solid wine with an agreeable complexity and it will be very long-lived. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as enters its peak drinking window between 2014 and 2024.
Tahbilk 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $17.95 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bottle had just been opened and the nose was shut down. There was a hint of VA (which should blow off to reveal) clean fruit below with some coffee characters. This is a typical Tahbilk cabernet. Abundant drying, powdery tannins combine with fresh, crisp acid and pure, deeply-seated fruit to form an ample-weight firm and solid wine that has an agreeable complexity and needs ages to show its best. The fruit is currently buried by the tannins. Cherry, aniseed, mint and dried herbs complete the package. Rated as Recommended with **** for value; the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2016 and 2028.
Tahbilk 2002 Eric Stevens Purbrick Reserve Shiraz sells for $59.95 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The aromatics are delightful, with floral notes, earthy characters and hints of spices. Palate flavours of black cherry, milk chocolate, dried herbs and mint finish on long, fine, drying tannins. The acid is fresh and the fruit both pure and deep. It's an ample-weight, firm, solid, tight wine with a well-developed complexity and is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, and that rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window.
Tahbilk 2002 Eric Stevens Purbrick Reserve Cabernet sells $59.95 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is dusty and shows loads of mint, blackberry and menthol. The wine has a fantastic structure. A serious amount of fine, powdery tannins combines with fresh and crisp acid which is perfectly matched to the pure, deep, strong fruit. The long, drying tannins drag the blackberry, aniseed, mint and dried herb characters down the complete length of the palate. It's a firm, rock solid wine that is just-ample in weight and should be very long-lived. If you are going to drink it at this stage of its life, make sure that you have a razor handy to shave the tannins from your tongue. It's a lovely wine and rated as Excellent with *** for value, and it should be in its peak drinking window between 2018 and 2030.
Tahbilk 2002 1860’s Vines Shiraz sells for $114.95 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is bright and vibrant and shows a touch of oxidative handling. An immaculate construction has been achieved by the judicious use of a very fine, dusty tannins, fresh acid and deep, persistent, pure fruit. The plum, chocolate, blackberry and vanilla flavours finish with incredible length. An ample-weight, firm and solid wine, the construction is harmonious. This is a fine, complete wine; rated as Excellent with ** for value, it's the perfect thing for a special occasion.
In the tasting notes above, I mentioned some of the bottles were not sound examples, and in some cases a second bottle was opened. The reality was actually worse. I didn't record the exact details of all the bottles that weren't as the maker intended, but it certainly does prove how ineffective a cork seal is over a protracted period of time.
I must admit, over the years I have looked at the Tahbilk vintage chart recommendations and wondered if they are a figment of somebody's very vivid imagination, or if they had been dreamed up whilst smoking funny, unfiltered green cigarettes, but this tasting proved there is a big dose of reality behind that chart.
Tahbilk really know how to look after their customers, in more ways than one. To the best of my knowledge, Tahbilk is the only winery that has such an extensive museum tasting on a regular basis. It's a real treat to have the opportunity to try such a huge line up of wines. We only tried a small number of the samples available. What's more, the lady serving us was quite happy to open whatever we wanted to try. But their hospitality goes further. As we were walking out, I asked where the restaurant was because we wanted to grab a cup of (real) coffee. We were told that unfortunately it wasn't open yet, however Jeff was kind enough to say he would ring them, and let them know that we were coming, so that they would open up and serve us. Great stuff! When we arrived at the restaurant, we were indeed expected, were welcomed warmly, and served with real, enjoyable coffee. What's more, because they weren’t officially open, they refused our money. Now that's hospitality and a lovely touch after such an enjoyable tasting.
Tahbilk has a wine club. It is one of two wine clubs where I am a member. Their club has a range of offers that are truly unique and innovative. There is a huge variety of offers each year and no matter what your taste in wine, there is always something that will appeal from time to time. It also offers attractive members pricing on all wines.
There is another well known and highly respected winery in this region. Mitchelton is just down the road from Tahbilk. The difference in the architecture and ambience between the two wineries is astonishing. Tahbilk is rustic whilst Mitchelton resembles a small, ultra-modern, country airport surrounded by a lush private garden. The grass at Mitchelton has to be seen to be believed. There is not a blade out of place. No self-respecting blade would dare risk it, and any disrespectful blades would quickly have their heads lopped off at the knees; and possibly even at the roots.
I loved the wines that came from here in the early 1990s, especially with some bottle age. However as that decade marched on, to my way of thinking, stylistically the wines changed and the oak influence became more prominent. When it was a baby, I very much enjoyed the 1998 Print because it had so much rich, ripe fruit, which overshadowed the oak at that time. A couple of years later, once the fruit started to subside a little and the oak came to the fore, I couldn't sell it fast enough. Sure, eventually the fruit may eventually sop up all the coffee-laden oak, but whilst the oak and primary blackberry flavours are dominant, I find the flavour profile personally unattractive. But that's just me. Many people, including Brian, love it. (Brian: The fruit has defeated the oak at 10 yo, I love this wine.)
(The prices quoted for Mitchelton wines are less ten percent for wine club members.)
Mitchelton 2001 Crescent sells the $26 at cellar door, is sealed under cork and is an SMG blend. The bouquet shows hints of oxidative handling with earthy, chocolate notes and suggestions of red fruit. The palate has loads of flavour for the wines weight and it shows black cherry, aniseed and dark chocolate. Fine, unobtrusive tannins combine with fresh and lively acid to form a wine that is just ample in weight, and has an agreeable complexity. It really needs food. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, it's ready to drink now.
Mitchelton 2006 Shiraz sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows sweet, subtle perfumed fruit with black cherry. This leads to a palate of cherry, liquorice, mint, spice, and dark chocolate flavours that finish with good power for its elegant weight. It has a supple consistency and an agreeable complexity. A very easy-drinking, open, unassuming wine that is driven by pure, deep fruit and supported by fresh acid and dusty tannins; rated as Recommended with *** for value, it's ready to go now.
Mitchelton 2006 Parish Shiraz Viognier sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. Oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my dreary me. Sticking my nose into the glass and taking a sniff reminded me of sticking my nose into a box of apricots. This was a case of DNPIM. No doubt it will be hugely popular with the masses. (Brian: Ha Ha, 94 pts from James Halliday.)
Mitchelton 2004 Heathcote Shiraz is sealed under screwcap, and sells at $35; it is only available at cellar door. A neatly constructed and balanced wine, the supple consistency is supported by silky-smooth, powdery tannins. It is savoury on the uptake with cherry, spice and hints of pepper. A tight wine that has a harmonious construction and a diverse level of complexity; its medium-weight and rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value. This one is worth seeking out.
Mitchelton 2005 Shiraz Tempranillo is sealed under screwcap, sells the $20 and is only available at cellar door. The bouquet is noticeably sweet and vibrant and shows subtle perfumed violets and earthy notes and blackberry. The palate is both the sweet and spicy; the deeply-seated, persistent fruit delivers cherry, blackcurrant, and liquorice flavours that finish very clean, crisp and dry. A lean wine with a supple consistency that is deceptively well-backed by plenty of powdery tannins that results in a supple mouth feel; this is a great food wine and worth trying for something different. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it's ready to go now but should last some time.
The Mitchelton 2003 Print Shiraz was available for tasting but unfortunately I can't get my head around the coffee oak and intense blackberry flavour in this wine. It is hugely popular, and a quality label with a deserved reputation, but unfortunately I cannot be objective about it. (Brian: I didn’t think it is as good as the 2002, seemed a little unbalanced, I’m waiting for the 2004.)
During my 2004 trip to this part of Victoria I call in at Plunkett Winery totally on spec. I had no idea what to expect. I was looked after by a very enthusiastic Sam Plunkett and was equally impressed with both his winemaking ability and his determination to make anything for the winery that could possibly be produced in-house, or not, it didn't matter, he still managed to make it. That sort of eccentricity makes a visit interesting. With that in mind, I was looking forward to seeing Sam again.
Some would say that unfortunately things never remain the same and that is absolutely the case in much of the wine business. The Plunkett winery is no longer just the Plunkett Winery. It is now Plunkett Fowles. The Fowles are no relation to the chooks that live out the back, but they do it live directly next door to the Plunkett's vineyard. The Fowles are long-time local farmers and a number of years ago started buying vineyards in the district. About two and a half years ago, Dominion Wines went into receivership. The Fowles decided that as they owned all those vineyards, it mightn't be a bad idea to vertically integrate and buy a winery as well. As the families were friendly and the Plunketts had been helping out with vineyard advice, the Fowles rang the Plunkett's to ask for advice about placing a bid for the Dominion Winery. Sam had a bit of a problem with offering advice as he intended to place a bid as well. That stopped the conversation cold.
Brian's finger with Dupuytren's Contracture - not a pretty sight
Looks about as appetising as my rash, but at least my affliction went!
Being neighbours, a chin wag over the fence is a common occurrence. The party of the first part, engaged in verbal intercourse, with the party of the second part, over the property dividing line. Naturally enough, the subject turned to the Dominion Winery bid. The party of the first part came to an agreement with the party of the second part, to engage in a mutually beneficial business proposal, which hopefully, would result in the acquisition of property belonging to the party of the third part, currently being looked after by the party of the fourth part, namely the administrator. Or to put it another way, they had a chin wag over the fence and decided to put in a joint bid.
It was a sound strategy. Most of the creditors were local growers. The Fowles could contribute significant business skills, not to mention deep pockets, and the Plunkett's had engineering, viticultural, and winemaking skills.
The bid was successful and over last two years, they have moved the Plunkett winery up to the new state of the art facility at the Dominion winery. It's located about fifteen minutes away, in a north westerly direction in the Strathbogie Ranges, and its right in the middle of the local vineyards. The bottling is still done on site in the original Plunkett location.
The majority of the grapes used come from their own properties. The exception being The Exception.
We started off with a couple of examples of Cabernet Sauvignon. These two wines literally come from two blocks that are next door to each other. Each family owns one block.
Fence Sitter 2004 White Gate Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $29.95 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows white pepper, dusty vanillin oak and blueberry. The palate is similarly endowed with blueberry, pepper, blackcurrant, and cigar box, but there is a leafy, green tinge through the palate. Almost muscular in weight, it is a firm, solid wine that is well-backed by dusty tannins which are well matched to the deeply-seated fruit, and the acid is fresh but on the point of being sharp. Nevertheless, it's quite drinkable and as rated as Recommended with ** for value, and the rating may improve if the acid eventually calms down. Drink from 2012 and beyond.
Fence Sitter 2004 Upton Run Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $29.95 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is more dusty and meaty than the White Gate and also shows white pepper and blueberry. The wine is ample in weight with a soft consistency, a harmonious construction and an agreeable complexity. It's backed by loads of ripe, powdery tannins which support the dark chocolate, blackcurrant, aniseed, cigar box, grind of pepper and dried herb flavours. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, drink from 2012 and beyond.
Plunkett Fowles 2002 Reserve Merlot sells for $39.95 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows a hint of varnish with dark plum and mushrooms. An ample-weight wine with a supple consistency and solid structure, the wine finishes with attractive sour cherry but unfortunately there is a green streak right through the width of the wine which gives it a disjointed flavour profile. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Plunkett Fowles 2004 Reserve Shiraz sells for $39.95 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows pepper and spice over black fruit which leads to a similarly endowed palate that also shows black plum, mulberry, aniseed and a sour cherry finish. The deep, ripe fruit seems almost wimpy and then the structure kicks in. This is a deceptively well-balanced wine that is backed by fine, powdery tannins and supported by fresh acid. It's a muscular in weight, firm and solid, and has an interesting flavour profile. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should hit its peak drinking window between 2011 and 2018.
Plunkett Fowles 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $39.95 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The nose is dominated by oak characters, coffee, vanilla and spice over blueberry fruit and milk chocolate. This is a bloody seriously structured wine. The pure, subdued fruit is buried by the slightly powdery, abundant firm tannins. The acid is fresh and crisp. The juicy-fruit is multilayered with both off-sweet characters in the top layer and sweet fruit below. Blueberry, milk chocolate, dried herbs and spicy oak finish very dry and clean. A medium-weight, very firm and solid wine with an agreeable complexity, the quality is obvious but it needs ages for the tannins to integrate and for the fruit to surface. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, it should be in its peak drinking window between 2014 and 2024.
Plunkett Fowles 2004 The Exception Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $39.95 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. This is a serious nose; it is very dusty with hints of cigar box, dried herbs and a touch of varnish. It sits well in the mouth. The ripe, juicy-fruit delivers sweet and spicy nuances with chocolate, blackcurrant and vanilla. An ample-weight, uncomplicated wine with a supple consistency, it finishes long and dry. Rated as Recommended with ** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2020.
Looks can be deceptive - this looks better from a distance.........................
I walked away from the cellar door less impressed than I had been on my previous visit. Some of the wines are good, but some of them are not so good. In terms of value, like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder, but I didn't find any Nicole Kidman's here. Or even a Jennifer Hawkins. I did find out later that club members pay 20% less than the advertised price. That makes the wines reasonable value, provided you are a club member but it doesn't do anything for the general public.
Depending on your point of view, it was either half past pie o’clock or half to hamburger o’clock. The latter sounded way better than the former, so we decided to try the restaurant at the winery. As soon as we sat down, our waitress delivered a bottle of water to the table. It was in a white wine bottle and had a screwcap. As she poured the water, I said, "Oh good, a glass of your house water. I hope it comes from a good vintage."
In a very stern voice, with an equally stern expression on her face, and a fairly thick German accent she said, "I have only been here three weeks. You should not ask me these questions.”
I looked at Brian. He looked at me. I don't know how we didn't burst into hysterics.
Brian ordered a steak sandwich and was happy with it. The serving was generous. I ordered battered barramundi with chips and salad. The salad was okay, but there was no dressing or even an offer of dressing. The chips were over-salted. And I don't mean just a little bit. Brian scraped a heap of salt from his chips because he couldn't eat them the way they were. There were only two shortcomings with my fish. The batter was so soft that it literally fell apart. The second was that every time I put a fork into the fish, it would literally fall apart. They should name at this dish, "Fall Apart Fish." Needless to say, we won't be eating here again. I may have had worse food in a winery restaurant, but if I have, I can’t remember that far back.
I have had a love-hate relationship with Baileys of Glenrowan over the years. When I first started drinking their wines in the 1970s, they were renowned for being huge, larger-than-life, tannic monsters that would outlive Methuselah. They made Mudgee-mud look like c-through. If you ever wanted wine to accompany a Brontosaurus steak, you would reach for the Baileys.
But their history goes way back beyond that time. In 1870, Richard Bailey produced his first vintage. In the 1890s phylloxera went through the district at wiped out many of the vineyards. In 1904 the Bailey family replanted on phylloxera resistant root stock and the grapes from this vineyard are still happily producing today. In the 1920s they expanded their holding and planted more Shiraz, Tokay and Muscat. They now have over three hundred acres under vines and class their young vines as the stuff that was planted eighteen years ago. Many wineries would kill for "young vines" with that much age.
Over around a 20 year period the winery went through a succession of owners. During that period, the wines were patchy and inconsistent. There are a few terrific vintages, but by and large many of them disappointed and were well below the standard one would have expected of a winery with access to such well-established vineyards. Somehow, Fosters wound up owning the winery and recently the word around the traps was that the winery was starting to make pretty credible wines again. That was why I wanted to check the place out again.
Baileys 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon sells the $20 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is beefy, and earthy with blackcurrant and mint. A well-balanced and cleverly constructed wine that has loads of dusty tannins that are well concealed; the deep fruit delivers blackcurrant/berry, tar, mint, and dried herbs that finishes fresh and with good persistence. An unashamedly muscular, firm and solid wine with an agreeable complexity, this is a dandy big red. It's approachable now but will improve and should be in its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2018. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine reaches its peak.
Baileys 2006 Glenrowan Shiraz sells the $20 at cellar door is sealed under screwcap. This wine has been made from their "young vines" which were planted in the 1980s and 1990s. The bouquet is interesting and shows lots of complexity; beefy, meaty notes with subtle spices and floral notes are all in evidence. It sits beautifully in the mouth, and the lush finish is perfectly offset by crisp acid, and supported by deeply-seated tannins. A muscular-weight, firm, supple wine that has an agreeable complexity, it needs time to fill out, and whilst the tannins kick on forever, they don't drag the fruit all the way through. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2018.
Baileys 2006 1920’s Block Shiraz sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows morello cherry, blackcurrant, spice and mint. This is a huge mother that has been built for the long haul. It's firm, solid, tight and is backed by abundant dusty tannins which are supported by youthful, fresh acid and deep, strong fruit. The palate shows blackcurrant, sour cherry and mint. It finishes long and mouth puckering dry. It's also crisp and clean. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2016 and 2030.
Bailey's 2004 1904 Block Shiraz sells for $45 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The spicy, cedary oak thoroughly dominates the fruit. A full-bodied, firm, solid wine with youthful acid, deeply buried fruit, and blocky tannins; the sour cherry, dark chocolate and blackberry flavours completes the profile. Rated as rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, it will enter its peak drinking window between 2014 and 2019. I much prefer the 1920s Block Shiraz. (Brian: Me too!)
There is absolutely no doubt about it. The reds are right back to form and with Foster's at the helm, hopefully they should remain that way.
You can't visit a place like Baileys without trying their fortified wines. So we did.
Baileys Founder Liqueur Muscat sells for $22 at cellar door for a 750 ml bottle. The bouquet shows rose petals and honey with lightly burnt toast. An ample-weight wine with a fleshy and silky consistency, the complexity is agreeable and the explicit fruit delivers caramel, honey, rose water and Turkish delight flavours. It finishes crisp, fresh and with medium length. A great value wine, it’s rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Baileys Winemakers Selection Muscat sells the $55 for a half bottle. The bouquet shows rancio characters with loads of coffee notes, which leads to a palate of honey, coffee and caramel. A deliciously sweet wine that is driven by deep fruit; it's a muscular in weight, intense and has a well-developed complexity. The fresh and crisp acid enables it to finish long and clean. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, I prefer this wine to the OId Tokay, which is unusual as I generally prefer Tokay.
Baileys Founder Liqueur Tokay sells for $22 at cellar door for a 750 ml bottle. The bouquet showed honey with roast nuts. A syrupy-sweet wine with honey, caramel and hints of citrus on the palate; it's ample-weight with a silky consistency and an agreeably and harmonious complexity. It finishes with good persistence and freshness. Rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Baileys Winemakers Selection Old Tokay sells the $55 for a half bottle. The bouquet shows some rancio characters and burnt caramel. Driven by medium intensity, rich fruit, the wine is ripe, mellow and luscious. It's ample-weight with a silky consistency and finishes long. The complexity is well developed. The rancio and orange flavours are pleasant enough but there is not enough acid to clean the wine up perfectly. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value.
It has been many years since I had been here and almost as long since I had bought any of their wine. Both Brian and I were very pleasantly surprised. The winery is right back on track and in good form. Hopefully they will re-establish their old reputation, which was richly deserved.
From Baileys it did not take long to get to Wangaratta. We hadn’t planned on a stop at Wang, but by this time, the red welts were getting worse and starting to itch noticeably. A few clever questions by the chemist diagnosed the likely cause of the welts. Most motels etc use tiny bars of soap. They are normally so small by the time your “pits” are clean there ain’t much left. The Emeu Inn is more generous. The soap they provide is big enough for use by regular sized human beings and smells pleasant. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s made in China and who knows what went into it that caused it to burn/irritate the **** out of my skin. The only places I didn’t have welts were on my back and face, the areas the soap did not hit. Just as well I didn’t wash my face with it or I would have really looked like a red bigot. I won’t be using Chinese soap again.
We continued our journey north-west until we hit Beechworth. I had some accommodation details already, but I could not believe what I had found, so we stopped at the Visitors Information Centre. Unfortunately the information I had was correct. There are five motels listed in the area. All were 3.5 stars and all priced within a range of six dollars. Collusion or a “coincidence”? What ever, it’s very handy for the motel proprietors if there is no price cutting/competition. We decided we would stay at the one closest to where we were having dinner so we didn’t have to drive or cab it.
There are not many wineries open in the district, especially during the week, but one I wanted to try was located a fair way out of town and well and truly off the beaten track. The drive down to the vineyard is fantastic. You head out of town in a northerly direction, heading towards the Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park on the Beechworth-Chiltern Road for approximately eleven km. Then the fun begins. After a hairpin left turn, you negotiate a two km winding, steep road that drops you down into the valley. It's beautiful.
Halliday's Companion shows David O'Leary as the wine maker for Tinkers Hill Vineyard, and anything that David makes it is always of interest, especially so in this case as it is so far away from the Clare Valley. In 2000 James and Rhonda Taylor decided to retire and bought a property in the Woolshed Valley below Beechworth. A plan to grow a few grapes and make wine for their own consumption got a little out of hand and the Tinkers Hill Vineyard label was the result. But the story gets more interesting. Their daughter Kirsty, and her partner Peter decided to move up to North-East Victoria, and by chance, the property they bought just happened to have a vineyard. The Circo-V label was born and both of them can be purchased from cellar door. In total six wines are available; two c-throughs and four reds.
Circo V 2004 Merlot sells at $22 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows earthy black fruit together with plum and musk. Unobtrusive tannins combine with fresh, crisp acid and distinct fruit to form a lean wine with a very firm consistency, yet it still manages to maintain a supple mouth feel. A solid and elegant wine, it is perfectly suited to summer alfresco dining. The flavour profile is interesting with black cherry, milk and dark chocolate and a slight hint of bitterness on the back of the palate. The sweet uptake is cleaned up by the fresh acid on the finish. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, drink over the next five years.
Circo V 2004 Shiraz Viognier sells the $25 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows hints of apricot with spice and lifted, perfumed, cherry fruit. The palate is fragrant with both sweet and off sweet characters; sour cherry, milk chocolate and dried herbs provide an agreeable level of complexity. A harmonious construction has been achieved between the fine, unobtrusive tannins, the fresh and crisp acid and the prominent fruit. A lean wine with a supple consistency, it's elegant and food friendly. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, it should be in its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2014.
Tinkers Hill 2005 Shiraz sells for $25 at cellar door and is sealed under Diam. The bouquet shows earthy, meaty characters which leads to a palate of cherry, milk chocolate, and dried herb flavours that are intertwined between sweet and savoury layers. The smooth, fine tannins are unobtrusive but back the wine solidly. Just ample in weight, it has a supple consistency, an attractive yet idiosyncratic complexity, and is an elegant, credible and most enjoyable, food-friendly wine. It finishes with respectable length and persistence and is rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value; it should be in its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2015.
Tinkers Hill 2004 Cabernet Merlot sells for $22 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The wine is approximately a 60/40 blend. The bouquet shows lifted menthol with loads of mint, and blackcurrant. Fine, soft dusty tannins combine with fresh acid to form a medium-weight wine with a supple consistency and solid structure that is well-balanced, and sits in the mouth pleasantly. It also has a long finish. Now if all that sounds like it makes you want to rush out and buy the wine, don't. The palate flavours of blackberry, intense mint and eucalyptus can only be described is disjointed. The best description I have heard for this level of eucalyptus in this wine is eucalypt taint. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
The moral of the story is don’t try and grow Cabernet in this area.
The reds were generally a very pleasant surprise. Except from the Cabernet, they will all elegant, food friendly and eminently drinkable. Funnily enough, it turns out that the wines are actually not made by David O'Leary. For whatever reason, the Halliday Companion had the winemaker's name wrong, and the wines are actually made by Andrew Doyle who owns Tinkers Hill with his partner Catherine Sullivan. I am glad the information was wrong, because if it was correct I probably would not have found this little gem.
We headed back to town and checked into the Carriages Motor Inn. The rooms have high A-frame ceiling made with dark timber, and the walls are dark, exposed brick. It was functional and everything worked, but the rooms were very dark and a bit depressing. The towels were tiny and threadbare. Every time I touched the towel rail it fell off the wall. On the hand basin, the hot water is marked as cold as the cold as hot; now that’s smart repair work! Not! It’s also begging to line a lawyer’s pocket. I wouldn’t stay here again, although in its favour it is close to the main street and has free broadband internet access. At $110 a night, it’s no bargain.
When I planned the trip, I wanted to try the battely wines as I had heard good things about them. Russell Bourne is the man behind the winery, but he has a real job too. He is an anaesthetist at an almost local hospital. He is a busy man and we had to chop and change proposed appointment times until we finally got a time that was convenient to both parties. Dinner time it was, so we agreed to meet at the Ox and Hound restaurant in the main street.
Russell is best mates with Keppell Smith who owns Savaterre Winery. I didn’t have Savaterre on my list of wineries to visit as they are best known for their Chardonnay and Pinot, however Russell invited Keppell to join us for dinner and show me his wares. I am glad he did.
The vineyard is four hundred and forty metres above sea level and Keppell believes in organic farming principles. This is another vineyard that has been planted on crappy soil. It might sound strange, but many viticulturalists and winemaker regard poor soil as a positive attribute. Likewise, growing grapes in marginal conditions can frequently produce stunningly good (or very ordinary,) wines. Vines that have to struggle are strong, either that or they are dead. Keppell's Vineyard is granite "buckshot" over the decomposed clay. The gravel imparts some minerality to the wines, whilst the clay provides some much needed moisture during summer.
There are a few fine wine shops that retail the wines, but they can also be found in the finest restaurants throughout the country. If you have a look at the list of restaurants that the wine can be found, it's impressive and speaks volumes about the high regard in which the brand is held. You don't get into that many of the country's best restaurants by accident, especially when you are a very small producer.
Savaterre 2005 Chardonnay sells for $70 direct from the winery and is sealed under cork. The bouquet showed flinty and citrus notes. Deep and pure fruit combine with fresh acid to form an ample-weight wine with a lovely construction. It's elegant, has a supple consistency and a sophisticated level of complexity. Diverse citrus flavours and aniseed, together with flint are marvellously matched to the distinguished quality oak. It finishes clean, and lingers for ages. A very fine, high-class wine, it should age well and is rated as Excellent with ** for value. I could actually drink a glass of the stuff. But only if I actually had to! It's still a couple of years off its peak, and then you should happily keep kicking until at least 2015.
Savaterre 2005 Pinot sells the $70 direct from the winery and is sealed under cork. The bouquet screams class yet it is restrained, clean, exhibits good Pinotosity and has a little spice and mushroom. It reminds me of a thoroughbred champing at the bit waiting to bolt out of the starter’s gate. It's big for a Pinot. It’s an impeccably structured wine that is backed by abundant tannins that are perfectly matched to the deep, pure fruit, and fresh and lively acid. Cherry, spice (pepper), aniseed, mushroom, more spice and herbs are interlaced between a sweet and off-sweet layer that runs right through the wine and it finishes with excellent persistence. It's tight, all class, has a multifaceted complexity and will become seamless in time. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, this baby is bound to improve as it enters its peak drinking window between 2013 and 2019.
Much of the spice component comes from whole bunch fermentation; almost the whole batch was made this way.
Let's face it, these two (Chardonnay and Pinot) are not exactly my favourite grape varieties, but when they are made well, they can produce sublime wines. From my perspective, these two wines are about as good as it gets for these two varieties in Australia. Both are absolutely top-notch examples. What's more, I would quite happily drink either one of them. That's high praise indeed from someone who is unforgiving when it comes to Pinot, and normally avoids Chardonnay like a dose of the pox. Just between us girls, Brian had two glasses of the Pinot and thoroughly enjoyed the wine. I drank one glass, and the only thing that stopped me having the second was that I needed to have my faculties about me to review the rest of the wines. By the time I would have been able to have a second glass, the bottle had been finished. The bastards!
Like most of his overpaid brethren, Russell likes to ski as well drink good red wine. As a result, he knew this area rather well, especially as he had been a GP at Mt Beauty. And old, disused, overgrown vineyard which used to produce excellent wines for Brown Brothers called Everton Hills came on the market. Faster than you could say, ‘take two Panadol and if it doesn't go away, don’t give me a call in the morning,’ Russell owned it.
Trying to find a name for the site was not easy; it never is! The name Everton Hills belonged to Brown Bros, and Russell wanted something a little more personal than Dingo Creek, Mountain River, Flying Bay, Boring Valley, Emu Road, Missing Bridge, Possum Poo, Winery. Some joker with horn rimmed glasses from the local historical society told Russell that Battely Town had originally sat just behind his back fence. During the goldmining days, the town boomed. It contained three pubs and a racecourse. It couldn't have been that prosperous, there was no mention of a brothel. That didn’t stop Russell's enthusiasm for the name. As he spells battely with a lowercase b, I guess either he is trying to be hip, or he can't find the shift key on his computer keyboard.
Vintage 2008 at battely (picture from battely website)
To cut a long story short, in 1998 Russell planted his first four acres. According to his web site, "A site assessment puts us bang slap in the middle of the Rhone Valley of France, so Rhone varietals seemed to be the direction to go.” Speaking about directions, whoever did that site assessment must have had the navigation skills of the captain of the Titanic. Last time I looked at a map, Beechworth Victoria was no where near the Rhone Valley. The assessor must have been a paid government consultant.
In 2001 a further four acres of Shiraz and Viognier were planted to supplement the Shiraz, Durif and Marsanne (and Viognier) that had already been planted.
When I saw the line-up of wines that Russell had brought, it seemed quite incongruous in comparison to the wines that Keppell had brought. How the hell do you successfully grow Pinot and Durif in the same area? So I asked for an explanation.
Russell said, "The area has a diverse climate and ecology. If you go three hundred metres to the north, come up a hundred or a hundred and fifty metres in elevation, and detune to the south; you have gone from an area that is perfect for the Rhone varieties to an area that is perfect for Pinot and Chardonnay. (That comment about “detuning to the south” makes me wonder if Russell was employed by the public service to write reports at some stage.) My site would be a disaster for Pinot and Chardonnay. It’s a little sun trap. Too many people look at a site and say I'm going to make “that” wine. They should be looking at a potential site and say, what are we going to do here? What is it best suited to? In an area like this, a very small distance can lead to a very big difference in the suitability of grape varieties.”
I then asked Russell, if that is the case, how can they market this region if it has such enormous diversity of grape varieties?
He responded, "It’s not quite as extreme as it sounds. Overall Shiraz is doing well in Beechworth. The main players, Castagna, myself and Giaconda’s wines all show different expressions. Keppell has now also planted Shiraz, but he's put it in a warmer spot. We have done a horizontal line up with the main players, and whilst they are all different, they do have a character that flows through all of them. You can't market region as a mono grape varietal area, but I believe that in twenty years there will be less varieties grown in the Beechworth area. No one is going to plant more Cabernet, and hopefully the same thing will be said for Merlot. Shiraz will continue to do well. Pinot is a problem to grow at the best of times and is very site-specific. There will be one or two sites in Beechworth that will grow Pinot but that will be about it. I also expect to see an increase in plantings of Roussanne, Marsanne and Nebbiolo.
A lot of people, especially in Victoria, think that running a winery or growing grapes is a retirement plan. They think it will be wonderful to sit on the porch overlooking the vineyard, whilst the grapes take care of themselves. They think it's an easy retirement plan; they have no idea what really goes on. So they start a winery. Those people are a real problem for the industry.”
battely 2005 Shiraz sells for $52 direct from the winery and is sealed under cork. A splendid wine! The vibrant, floral fruit exudes cherry and earthy mushroom notes. The individual components are perfectly matched and impeccably balanced. Ultra-fine, silky, ripe tannins combine with fresh acid and deep, pure fruit to form a muscular-weight, harmonious, solid and tight wine. Blackcurrant, mint, aniseed, tar, eucalyptus and mint flavours finish with terrific persistence. The softness of the tannins makes it approachable now, but it will certainly improve with time in the bottle. This is a serious quality, posh wine that is almost a steal at the price. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, it should be at its best between 2015 and 2025. At 15.5% alcohol, it exhibits no sign of heat. The fruit had enough power to effortlessly kick through the heat of the chilli in the food.
battely 2005 Durif sells for $35 direct from the winery and is sealed under cork. The bouquet showed blueberry, vanilla and earthy characters. This wine was in a hole and not showing well. It's incredibly tight and unyielding. The fruit driving the wine is good and the tannins are fine and soft. It's an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, a solid structure, and unusually, it's elegant for a Durif. Flavours of blueberry, vanilla, cherry and eucalyptus complete the package. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating does not do the wine justice and when it comes out of its hole, it is more likely to be rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value.
When I asked Russell how he managed to have such lovely, and soft tannins, he said, "They are natural. We have no need to fine. They have not been manipulated in any way. The winemaking is the simple part it just reflects what we do in the vineyard. It's true to say that great wine is made in the vineyard. At the end of the day, all you can do is bugger it up. The idea is not to try and do anything too clever and just let the site express itself. Our tannins are ripe, supple and quite delicious.
For a main course, I had rolled shoulder of lamb that was cooked to perfection. It had loads of pepper flavour through the sauce. It was served with peas and beans. The beans were just the way I like them; almost raw and crunchy. The potatoes were just cooked through and perfect for sopping up the gravy. The textural impact between the crunch of the beans and the softness of the meat was striking. The food was very rustic, but sited the location and ambience. It reminds me of the sort of comfort food my grandmother used to make.
Rockford 1996 Basket Press is sealed under cork and was brought along so that we could enjoy an older wine that was from a different region. Wow. The top-quality fruit is still incredibly youthful and fresh. There is an elaborate interplay between sweet and off-sweet nuances. Cherry, blueberry and other multiple berry fruit flavours provide a huge level of complexity and are harmonious. This is truly a gorgeous wine that is still a baby and needs many years to show its best. Rated as Excellent, it's just a shame I don't have more of them.
Over dinner Meeghan (Russell’s wife) told us a wonderful story. Battely doesn’t have a cellar door facility and is off the beaten track. The house is situated way off the main road up an extremely long dirt track/road. There is complete privacy as the nearest neighbours are a half a day’s donkey ride away. In circumstances like that, it would be natural to think the occasional skinny dip in the pool would be safe from unwanted interruption. Wrong!
One bright, sunny day Meeghan had been engaged in domestic activities that, I am reliably told, can make one perspire. It is an activity that I try not to be familiar with; it involves a piece of machinery with a motor on wheels. It sucks in stuff, like lost change, dropped bits of metal and plastic that you have looked everywhere for but can’t find, and dog and cat hair, noisily up a metal tube and blows out warm air at the other end. (Sort of like a mechanical politician. Sucks up money and other rubbish and produces nothing but hot air.) After engaging in this unmentionable activity for some time, Meeghan wanted to cool off.
The pool looked good. So she stripped off her working clobber and jumped into the water. Megan was thoroughly enjoying her swim, fully and formally attired in her underwear, when she heard a car driving up the driveway. The underwear Meeghan was wearing was not as sturdy as a whalebone corset and granny style bloomers; it was the type that when wet is as translucent as a glass of young Riesling. Some may even say c-through. Meeghan made a run from the pool for the front door, turned the handle but it was locked. She yelled out to Russell to hurry up and unlock the door. Just then the car pulled up; the driver (a guy) got out of the car and said, “Excuse me, do you have Cellar Door Sales.” Russell still hadn’t got to the door, so Meeghan turned around, faced the chap, spread her hands out at her sides and said, “Do I look like it?”
There are some interesting ways of being discovered. In the movie business, it is the typical waitress impresses a producer whilst serving them coffee story. In the wine business, it's usually a Robert Parker story. Somehow or other the 2001 battely Syrah made it to Robert Parker’s famous palate and he awarded it 96 pts and it sold out quickly. In 2003, the bushfires went through the Beechworth area. Russell declassified the Durif, because it wasn't good enough to stand on its own two feet under its normal label, so he blended it with the Shiraz and called the wine Sojourn. He shipped the lot off to the United States. Robert Parker reviewed the declassified wine and rated it as 96 points. The rest, as they say is history.
In a normal year their production is five hundred cases. Within the next five to six years, they plan to be at two thousand cases a year. By that stage they will have twelve acres under vine. If they keep making wines like the ones we tried, they should have no trouble selling them, and Russell may even be able to give up his real job and sit on the veranda and watch his grapes grow. And Meeghan may be able to afford to buy a bathing suit.
I noticed when I was transcribing the story from my recorder, at one stage Russell said, "Sleep is a precious commodity." Given that he has a real job as an anaesthetist, as well as the vineyard and winery to run, his comment sounded like a throw away line from a busy man. Or so I thought. I sent Russell a draft copy of the story one evening. The next morning I woke up at 4 am. I always have difficulty getting back to sleep so decided to do a bit of work on the computer. As I was reading away, at 4.32 am an email came in from Russell time stamped 4.31 am saying that he had just read the story. About 15 minutes later another email came in with a few errors that needed to be fixed and a comment that Meeghan had also just read it. Bloody hell! They both have worse sleep patterns than I do, and that's saying something.
And here endeth this Chapter. Chapter Six will be the last one and covers the rest of our time in this area and Rutherglen.
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