The 2007 South Australian Tour Diaries

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Chapter Six – Tuesday – The Barossa

 

It was a good and a bad start to the morning. After all these trips, the message is finally sinking in. The words “good breakfast” and the "Barossa Valley" are mutually exclusive terms, unless you happen to be staying in a five-star resort. Likewise, the words "good coffee" and "Tanunda eateries" are also mutually exclusive terms. Brian and I bought bottles of veggie juice to put in the fridge in our rooms, so at least we can a glass of good juice before we leave in the morning. As very little is open at 8.15 for breakfast, and the chances of getting a drinkable cup of coffee with breakfast is exactly zero, we stopped at the Tanunda bakery for a quick shot of espresso coffee before we met John for breakfast. I may have maligned at the Tanunda bakery in the past, but at 8 a.m. it fulfils a very useful function.

 

We had planned to meet at the smelly deli, but it no longer opens at 8 a.m. Under the old ownership they did a reasonable early morning trade, but since it changed hands and become the smelly deli, I guess they found it was not worth opening early, and based on the breakfast we had there last time, that's not surprising. We went to the Barossa Wursthaus again. We were unimpressed the last time we were there, and if anything it was even more disappointing this time.

 

I ordered bacon and eggs, sunny side up and runny. They give a new meaning to the word runny. The eggs were as runny as treacle. Brian ordered a BLT; it had lots of L and T, but not much B. The bacon was particularly good, but overall breakfast was disappointing.

 

Over breakfast John told us about his ride back to the motel last night with his "Rubenesque” young taxi driver. She told him that she had been to over three hundred B & S (Bachelor and Spinsters) Balls, and she reckoned she had another three hundred in her.   Like all dinkum Aussie sheilas, she attended the ball in her ute!    Sounds like she's after a good time, John had better be careful, as I will send him in harms way by booking the Gawler taxi every night.

 

His Pieship was in good form this morning. We decided we'd go back to the Tanunda bakery for another shot of coffee, and as John walked out of the Wursthaus, he turned in the wrong direction (to the car) so he must have intended walking there. It's only about 2 km up the road! A bit worse for wear me thinks!

 

Our first appointment was at the Jacob's Creek visitor centre. In the past, I have had some great experiences when visiting here but conversely, I have had some very ordinary experiences too. The difference in the experiences been directly related to the person who has been appointed to look after me.

 

When people think of Jacob's Creek, many think of the inexpensive, good value, masse produced wine at the low end, but Jacob's Creek is far more than that description. They are also home to Orlando and that is a fabulous label. The Orlando wines make up 4% of my personal cellar, and that's the second largest number. The only reason it is that 4% is that in the past couple of years I have drunk a lot of the old stuff, otherwise it would be top of the list, as it was for many years.

                                                                  Ye Olde Bush Vine Ry-sling!...................................................

 

For more years than I can remember, I have been in e-mail and phone contact with Bruce Thiele but we had never met. After my unsatisfactory cellar door experience last time, Bruce volunteered to look after us on this visit, and I was looking forward to finally meeting him.

 

We arrived at the Visitors Centre a few minutes early and right on time in drove a bright, burnt-metallic orange hoon-mobile. As it was a Commodore, I knew Brian had found a new second best friend.

 

After the introductions had been made Bruce told us we were heading off to the original homestead that belonged to Johann Gramp. The original house has had a complete internal refit and is used for private tastings. The vineyard planted out the front of the house was first planted in 1847. Pity the vines are for c-though wine.

 

This is the first time whilst typing up my notes I have had a heavy feeling in my heart, but as I type this, that is exactly the way I feel. More on the reason after the tasting notes.

 

When we walked into the tasting room, it was evident that Bruce had obviously gone to a lot of trouble to set up our visit. He had ignored the basic core range and started with the reserves and up. There were two bottles of every wine, so that just in case any were defective there were backups. There were 18 different wines to try. He also managed to obtain many unreleased vintages. Good stuff!

 

They export approximately a million cases of wine to the US annually, but the UK is where the real export strength lies as 45% of their production is sold into the UK.

 

Jacob's Creek 2005 Reserve Merlot is sealed under cork. It is only available in the US. The bouquet reeks of plums and has a hint of VA. The velvety, dusty tannins are unobtrusive but provide enough backbone to hold the wine together. It's driven by pure fruit that delivers plum, musk and chocolate and if you want to drink Merlot, this is it! It's ample-weight with a silky consistency, seamless structure, not at all wimpy or NutraSweet which makes it very drinkable. It's also got a lovely mouth feel. Rated as Recommended with **** for value.

 

Jacob's Creek 2005 Reserve Pinot sells for $16 and is sealed under screwcap. It is only available in the US and at the Visitors Centre. The fruit is sourced from the Adelaide Hills. The bouquet has lifted aromatics with sour cherry, earthy notes and chocolate. Silky, fine, unobtrusive but powdery tannins provide adequate support for the pure fruit that delivers milk chocolate, cherry and light aniseed flavours. Just hitting medium-weight, it has a silky consistency, seamless structure and harmonious complexity. It's a typical grey suit wine, inoffensive and a crowd pleaser. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value; drink now.

 

As an aside, in the 1970’s the winery grew Pinot in the Barossa. Not surprisingly, no one knew how to handle it properly, and the resulting wine was more a big red than a typical Pinot.

 

In his inimitable style, when John tasted the Pinot he said, "When people try this wine, they are hardly likely to say, I am only going to buy Pinot for the rest of my life."

 

Gramps 2004 Cabernet Merlot sells for $18 and is sealed under cork. To put this label in perspective, 550 growers provide fruit for this wine. The bouquet is lifted and expressive with Cabernet notes and loads of dusty oak, leafy characters, dark fruit and vanilla. Silky tannins provide a solid backing for the deep fruit in this muscular-weight wine that is very well-built for the price point. The consistency is supple and the complexity harmonious. Off-sweet on the uptake with blackcurrant, leafy characters, and chocolate flavours, it finishes clean and dry with loads of grippy tannins. A very solid, old-fashioned, varietal Cabernet that is perfectly ripe; it's rated as Recommended with **** for value and over that over-delivers on value big time. It's approachable now but will be better after 2010.

 

Jacob's Creek 2004 Reserve Cabernet sells for $16 and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows hints of varnished oak over leafy characters and ripe fruit. Loads of powdery, silky tannins firmly structure this supple wine that has a harmonious complexity and solid structure. Ripe black cherry, milk chocolate and hints of tomato leaf finish with drying tannins. A very good wine for the price, it would have been better if the fruit had been a touch more generous. Rated as Agreeable with **** for value.

 

Jacob's Creek 2005 Reserve Cabernet sells for $16 and is sealed under screwcap. It was bottled approximately four months ago. The bouquet is tight but lifted. It's a step up over the previous vintage, and is driven by pure, deeply-seated fruit, and is well backed by silky, drying, dusty tannins. Its ample-weight with a firm consistency and has a solid structure and harmonious complexity. It is ripe and sweet on the uptake, with off-sweet characters knotted together in two intermingling layers, together with varietal leafy characters. Rated as Recommended with ***** for value; it’s fantastic buying.

 

Jacob's Creek 2004 St Hugo has a recommended retail price of $40 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is truly varietal, tight as; and it shows quality, ripe fruit and leafy notes. It's interesting. Smooth, powdery tannins combine with fresh acid, and pure, deeply-seated fruit to deliver a muscular-weight, firm, solid, well-developed, incredibly tight wine. The palate is perfectly ripe with blackcurrant, milk chocolate, and tomato leaf that’s ably supported by drying tannins, which finish with excellent length and persistence. This vintage brings the wine right back on track and is the best for many years; it just needs time for the tannins to resolve. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value (or **** if you can find it on special,) it should hit its peak drinking window around 2011+.

 

Orlando 2003 Jacaranda Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $60 and is sealed under cork. The wine will be released soon, and that's no misprint. The fruit was not up to scratch so no 2000, 2001 or 2002 will be released. A skilful structure has been achieved by combining silky, dusty tannins with pure, deeply-seated fruit together with unobtrusive acid. It's an ample-weight wine with a firm consistency, very-tight structure and harmonious complexity. A posh wine that is more refined and restrained than previous vintages. Ripe, sweet and off-sweet nuances combined to deliver blackcurrant, milk chocolate, and the hint of a green edge on the drying finish is more varietal than anything else, and does not detract. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, approach after 2010; it’s a terrific result from a very ordinary vintage.

 

Orlando 2005 Jacaranda Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon has been bottled, but is way off release. It has been sealed under screwcaps. The bouquet says two things; tight and quality. The pure, deeply-seated fruit is bright and fresh and delivers plum, milk chocolate, hints of coffee, cigar box, and violet. The fruit is solidly supported by silky, drying tannins that finish clean and long. A muscular-weight, firm wine that is tighter than a pair of hip-hugging jeans, the palate is splendid and the structure guilt-edged. A class act and possibly the best Jacaranda Ridge to date, it's rated as Excellent with room to improve, as the wine hit its peak drinking window around about 2015.

 

Gramps 2005 Grenache sells for $18 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. A very ripe blackberry nose that is sweet and shows vanillin oak; it leads to a palate that is jammy, but the fresh acid gives it a lift. Backed by smooth, unobtrusive tannins this medium-weight wine is supple and uncomplicated; the punters will love it. Rated as Acceptable with *** for value.

 

Gramps 2004 Shiraz retails for $18 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows lifted volatiles but didn't show much else. The palate is a different story; it's plush and sits in the mouth beautifully. Pure, deep, strong, persistent fruit delivers ripe plums, coffee/mocha, mint and chocolate flavours. Muscular-in weight it has a supple consistency, a solid, tight structure and harmonious complexity. It's well backed by smooth, dusty tannins. Rated as Highly Recommended with ***** for value, drink over the next eight years.

 

Gramps 2005 Shiraz will retail for $18 when it is released shortly, and it is sealed under cork. The bouquet is brooding and the only thing that can be gauged from the uncooperative nose is the possibility that it may contain excellent quality fruit. The palate shows why the bouquet was being uncooperative; the wine is all about structure, and in some ways it's better than the previous vintage. Silky tannins combine with fresh acid and pure, deeply-seated fruit to form a muscular-weight wine with a solid, very tight structure. Plum, chocolate, and violets, and milk chocolate flavours finish long and the hint of green acid does not detract. Rated as Highly Recommended with ***** for value it's approachable now but will become more so with a little time.

 

Jacob's Creek 2004 Reserve Shiraz sells for $16 and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows bright, ripe floral characters with noticeably dusty tannins. It is sweet on the uptake with a savoury mid-palate showing both plum and milk chocolate; it finishes clean and fresh with chewy tannins. Ample-weight with a supple consistency, it is tight and well-backed by noticeable, but well-managed silky tannins, and has a harmonious and agreeable complexity. It's a good quaffing wine, but lacks the fruit generosity of some of the others in the line-up. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Jacob's Creek 2005 Reserve Shiraz sells for $16 and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is totally closed. Backed by abundant, drying, dusty tannins this medium-weight, firm and solid wine is undistinguished but clean and well made. It's another “grey suit” wine and whilst it's a little better than the 04, it's only just. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Jacob's Creek 2003 Centenary Hills Shiraz sells for $40 and is sealed under cork. It has been matured in 100% new American oak. The bouquet shows dusty, toasted oak blackberry and plum. Smooth, fine-grained, dusty tannins combine with pure, deeply-seated fruit to form a well-structured wine that is firm, solid, tight and restrained. Blackberry, plum, milk chocolate and mocha flavours are largely dominated by oak, but there is enough fruit to overcome it. It finishes long, clean and persistent. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, drink over the next five years, its a terrific result for the vintage.

 

Orlando 2000 Lawson Shiraz sells for $60 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is restrained with noticeable vanillin oak and earthy, flinty notes. A medium-weight, firm and solid wine with a harmonious and agreeable complexity, and whilst there is nothing wrong with it, others in the line up are better. It's well made but uninspiring. Red and blue spectrum fruit with vanillin oak flavours are approachable now; in fact the wine should probably be drunk over the next few years. It's a lean in comparison to previous vintages. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value.

 

The 2001 Orlando Lawson Shiraz was not made.

 

Orlando 2002 Lawson Shiraz should be released any day, will sell for $60 and is sealed under cork. The nose is typical of Lawson, lots of mint, "Peppermint Patty” like - the sort of wine you can sniff all day. Dusty tannins combine with pure, deeply seated fruit to form a muscular-weight, firm, solid wine with a well-developed complexity that is absolutely 100% typically Lawson. It's a slightly old-fashioned style, but I love it. Chocolate, mocha, loads of plum, mint, eucalyptus, chocolate, and blackberry flavours are off-sweet and finish clean. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, drink from 2010 and beyond.

 

One of the worst looking cork I have ever seen..........

Jacob's Creek 2001 Johann sells for $75 and is sealed under cork. The flagship wine, it is a blend of 55% Barossa Shiraz and 45% Coonawarra Cabernet; it has a delightful, classy nose. Plum, blackcurrant, leafy notes, chocolate and all sorts of other good things, together with loads of mint finish long, clean, persistent and dry. It's a muscular-weight, supple wine that is tight, and has a diverse complexity. The abundant tannins are silky and dusty, the fruit is deep and pure, but the acid which pokes out slightly, and is a little sharp around the edges, should come good. It's a classy wine that still needs ages. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, drink after 2012.

 

Jacob's Creek 2002 Johann is due for release in November or December and will sell for $75; it is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows an abundance of coffee oak, mint and mocha. It's a sexy wine, the best so far under this label and has a perfect structure. The pure, deep fruit is backed by smooth tannins and the crisp acid, which sticks out slightly, should resolve in time. The palate shows plum, blackberry, coffee, mocha, mint and is primarily off sweet, but has hints of sweetness below; the whole package finishes clean and dry. It's a muscular-weight, firm, and tight, elegant wine with an intricate and diverse complexity. It's all class, has a good mouth-feel and only requires bottle age. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, the rating may improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window in 2014 and beyond.

 

Early on in the tasting, when we tried the one and only straight Merlot, Bruce was unabashed in his comments. He thought that Merlot in Australia could only get better. Given where it was coming from, that wouldn't be difficult. Bruce then went on to explain that many of the clones brought in to Australia prior to 1998 were some of the worst clones in the world.

 

To put the company's size in perspective, the (approximate) 4,000 acres of vineyards they own represent about 10% of the fruit used.

 

In the past, they have been conservative about the introduction of new varietals, but that is about to change. You can look forward to a myriad of new varieties being bottled under their labels. They are making a serious investment in some of the more obscure varieties, and are excited about the potential use of Alberino. (It’s c-though, so I don’t know why! )  

 

There is a quantum shift to new varieties in Australia, but in most cases it's a search for a marketing difference. In the case of Jacob's Creek, much of it has been based on the concerns the company has about climate change and the effect it will have on viticultural practices and the supply of grapes.

 

During a conversation about grape varieties, in passing, Bruce told us that they were leaving Viognier to Yalumba, as they had put the hard work in developing the variety. When I asked a very pointed question about the addition of Viognier in Shiraz, the expression on Bruce's face said it all. He went on to say, "It's big, fat and oily and I don't like it.” The man has good taste.

 

Cabernet Sauvignon may not be the flavour of the month, but Jacob's Creek is certainly doing and more than a credible job with this variety. The flag fall for their Cabernets ranges from excellent to exceptionally good value. I may have a preference toward supporting small wineries, but this one does a fantastic job of not gouging their customers.

 

I keep saying to myself that the Gramps range of wines is underrated. Every time I see them, I am blown away by the quality for the price. I can't work out why these wines aren't a much bigger hit. Possibly they have not received much in the way of marketing and PR, but then that's not surprising for this company, who are adept at making very good quality wines at reasonable prices, but not exactly masters at marketing hyperbole. In many ways, from a consumer's perspective, that's a good thing.

 

From fairly early on in the tasting, it became apparent that the house style was consistent across the range. This is unusual in a range that is so large and varied. It shows the company has a coordinated, talented group of winemakers that are all pulling in the same direction. The tannins in virtually every wine was dusty, and ranged in texture from smooth to silky. All the wines were solidly constructed, and the only criticism you could possibly make was that some of them weren’t overly generous with the fruit.

 

The value aspect of the range can't be ignored. It's unusual to see so many wines in a large line-up get four stars for value, let alone five. As a corporation, they consistently over-deliver on value, and that has got to make the consumer happy. It will also ensure their long-term viability.

 

Ever since I completed the first Tour Diary, I have been in contact with Bruce Thiele. Bruce was always extremely helpful, and was happy to sort out problems even when they were not in his job portfolio. Over the years, we exchanged countless e-mails and spoke on the phone a number of times. One conversation always comes to mind when I think of Bruce. I rang him about story, absolutely sure about the tack I wanted to take, but by the end of the conversation, I had the basis for a completely different story thanks the information he had gently provided.

 

Like everyone in the Barossa, I was shocked to hear that unfortunately Bruce passed away recently at the age of 57. Unlike many of the other wine people in my Tour Diaries, Bruce wasn't born into the wine business, and he didn't even come from a grape growing area. In 1968, when he was 18 and had just finished his matriculation, he visited the Barossa for the first time. He was bitten by the wine bug and also fell in love with the region. 

Recounting the experience in later years he said, "There is a sense of mystery about wine, and I wanted to learn about the whole grape growing and winemaking sector. I was excited about the national and international feel of the industry."

 

Within a week he landed a job as a laboratory technician at Yalumba. In 1970 he moved to Seppeltsfield, where he gained a technician's job in the lab. As well is learning more about the chemical aspects of wine, as part of this training Bruce was taught to taste wines professionally.

 

In 1978 he became the warehouse manager at Orlando. At that stage, the company was called Orlando and it included the Jacob's Creek label. When Pernod Ricard took over in the early 1990s the job started to look a whole lot bigger, and different. Bruce became the PR manager and held that position up until fairly recently, when he became the Wine Promotions Manager. In his final role, he was responsible for looking after bunnies like me who were visiting the winery.

 

Bruce was completely committed to the Barossa, and when he passed away Bruce was the current Grand Master of the Barons of Barossa. You don't get to hold that position unless you are held in extremely high regard.

 

Bruce was the eldest of four siblings (three brothers and one sister,) and is survived by them, as well as his mother Tresna Thiele. He was not married.

 

When discussing Bruce with a number of the Barossa winemakers, one word kept repeating itself in every conversation. That word was “gentleman”. It is a fitting, and a good word to remember Bruce by. He will be missed by his work colleagues, his family and those whose lives he touched.

 

On a lighter note, after John had told him about his woes with the corked 1998 and 1999 Limited Blend (now Johann), Bruce was kind enough to offer us a bottle of the 2002 to take with us so that we could have a good look at it over dinner. Brian wanted John to take the open bottle, so that we could drink it that night, knowing that it was not corked, but John grabbed the sealed bottle (that Bruce gave him instead.) If we opened the sealed bottle that night and it was corked, I can just see the scenario.

 

It's first thing the next morning, and as soon as the Jacob's Creek Visitor Centre opens, in walks John with the corked bottle or 2002 Johann, complete with typed/laser label. He goes up to the counter, plonks the bottle down, tells them it’s corked, and asks for a replacement.   I can just see the hot excrement hitting the cooling implement located in the ceiling, as the staff tries to work out how to deal with this tall, very strange man who is trying to get an unreleased wine replaced.

 

One of my favourite small producers in the Barossa is Winter Creek. It's located at the southern end of the Barossa, well past Lyndoch, at Williamstown. The winery is owned by David and Pam Cross, whose hospitality is legendary. David is definitely, "hail fellow well met" and a very affable person. The guy just doesn't know how to make bad wines, but then since he has gone into c-throughs, I no longer taste his complete line-up. His wines have a reputation for allowing the fruit to speak. Just the sort of wines I love.

 

Winter Creek 2004 Old Barossa Blend (Grenache/Shiraz) is sealed under screwcap and sells for $25. The wine opened up stinky, but quickly blew off to reveal quality fruit with earthy, savoury notes. A medium-weight, firm, tight wine with a well-developed and harmonious complexity, the fruit is in control but is solidly backed by silky, dusty tannins. Black cherry, charcuterie and blackberry on the uptake combine with an attractive level of dark chocolate and pure fruit sweetness that is cut through by dry tannins and fresh acid, to finish clean and long. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, this will comfortably cellar for some time.

 

Winter Creek 2005 Old Barossa Blend (Grenache/Shiraz) is sealed under screw cap and will sell for $25 when it is released in December. The bouquet shows nada; zip; closed! It's all about structure at this point. The quality of the fruit is evident but the lively acid poked through initially, however with time it settled down. With cherry, black fruits and meaty hints, the wine is savoury and finishes dry to fresh blackberry. It's ample-weight with a supple consistency and is very tight. It's a good food wine but needs time to settle down. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating will improve as the wine matures and enters its peak drinking window around 2012.

 

Winter Creek 2006 Old Barossa Blend (Grenache/Shiraz) is sealed under screwcap and is at least 12 months away from release. The bouquet is very earthy with mushroom notes. Perfectly balanced and constructed, the pure fruit is slightly sweet on the uptake with an off-sweet profile dominating; it shows red cherry, other red and blue flavours, and it's meaty and chewy. Ample-weight, with a supple consistency, the unobtrusive tannins provide a solid, seamless structure that is tight and it shows some elegance. The complexity is harmonious but the fruit is almost lean, and the wine needs time to gain complexity and put on weight. It's more forward than the 2005 and is the best to date under this label. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, it should enter its peak drinking window around 2012.

 

Winter Creek 2004 Shiraz sells for $30 via mail order and is sealed under screwcap. It has a huge bouquet that is jumping out of the glass with floral characters, hints of lavender and earthy nuances. The fruit is fantastic, ripe, bright and fresh; the unobtrusive silky, tight, smooth tannins provide a solid backbone, and the crisp acid is well-judged. The blackberry, mocha and chocolate flavours finish clean, long, fresh and dry. The complexity is well developed; it is harmonious and in time should become seamless. A fantastic wine for the price, its rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, and while its great now, the rating will improve as it reaches its peak drinking window around 2011. David’s objective of producing quality wine that is fruit driven has just been met. If you haven't got any in your cellar, it's not too late.

 

Winter Creek 2005 Shiraz will sell for $30 via mail order when it is released in about six months and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is the direct opposite of the previous vintage; it is intense but very broody. A well-balanced wine; it is currently determined to show its structure rather than its charms. Silky, dusty, drying tannins combine with fresh acid, and pure, deep, strong fruit to form an ample-weight, tight, solid wine with a supple consistency that should become seamless in time. With spicy oak on the uptake and bright fruit showing through, it's off-sweet and food friendly. It's a damn good wine, let alone at the price. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should increase as the wine enters its peak drinking window around 2013.

 

                     Mum - The 2004 Fortified Shiraz is modelled after her!                               The 2005 Ugly Daughter!

David has a fixation with fortified wine that uses brandy spirit that is strong enough to knock over an elephant. The last one I tasted I described as "a bikers mole”. David has now produced the illegitimate daughter of a bikers mole. (When David saw these pictures, he emailed me saying, "I hope they don't think that's Pam. )

  

Winter Creek 2005 Fortified Shiraz sells for $20 and is sealed under screwcaps in a 375 ml bottle. It's a big, in your face style with "interesting" brandy spirit characters, and there is some great fruit below. Given time it should actually be quite drinkable. It shows violets, liquorice, and dark chocolate. A full-bodied wine with a glorious, supple consistency, it's a baby, and whilst I liked it, it needs time for the rocket fuel to blow off. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve when it eventually enters its peak drinking window.

 

Pam joined us for the tasting this time, something she has not done for some time. Somehow the topic turned to mangoes and the most appropriate and inappropriate ways to eat them. The best place to eat them is undoubtedly in the bath, but Pam's comment was a classic. She said, "When I eat a mango, if I could suck my elbows, I would suck them to.”  

 

When we were discussing the quality of the last few vintages, David told us that the quality of 06 was so good that he has put aside four barrels of Shiraz so that he can make a Reserve for the first time. He maintains the quality of the fruit is so good that it won't be missed from the straight Shiraz or the Blend. Based on the blend that I tried, I would believe that is possible.

 

If you haven't tried the Winter Creek wines, trust me, you should. The wine shows virtually no oak character, the quality fruit is expressive, and all the reds are terrific value. What more could you want?

 

If you find yourself here, do not stop, do not pass go, spend $200 and go................

somewhere good for lunch  and avoid the pie shop like a dose of the clap! ............

 

It's a conspiracy! When we got Winter Creek, the first ten minutes of the conversation was all about meat pies. David didn't stop rabbiting on about how good the pies worked at the local corner store. In order to avoid this conversation in the future, I think I will have to tell him that if he brings up the subject of pies, or even contributes to it, his wines will be rated as “cats piss” with * for value. Thanks to David's suggestion, once again I was Shanghaied to yet another revolting pie shop.

 

They did make some rolls, but the choice was meat or chicken and they certainly did not look particularly attractive. I was less than impressed. As I had no choice in the matter, other than to go hungry, which was looking a more attractive option as time went on, I ordered a potato pie and a soft drink. To add insult to injury, it was my turn to pay for lunch. The pastry was crunchy which was a plus too. The top of the potato was crisp, and that was a plus. The uber-finely minced meat tasted like the salt and pepper shaker had fallen into it, but then I guess something had to give it flavour. I couldn't eat it and it wound up in the bin. Naturally, his Pieship raved about his chunky steak pie and Brian was quite happy with his choice, which had a nice chilli kick.

 

If you ever see the sign in the picture, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and avoid the pie shop like a dose of the clap.

 

Although Charles Cimicky is meant to be open on Sunday, when we fronted up it was closed, so we thought we'd try it again before our next appointment. The closed sign was out again, but as it is a day that they were meant to be open, we drove in to see what was happening. The front door was locked. No explanation, no apology, but then why would you want to be considerate to you customers? If you think I'm being unduly harsh on Cimicky, I love their wines, but their attitude in the past in relation to wines that are corked, leaves a lot to be desired.

 

John wouldn't let me use my GPS because he found it annoying, which is strange as he wasn’t driving, so whilst I knew roughly where we were going next, it was no surprise when we couldn’t find the place. Not wanting to spend all afternoon driving around looking, I did the un-manly thing rang to get directions.

 

The first time I met Dan Standish the meeting took place at his parents’ house in Angaston. On my next visit, things were looking a little more serious when we met at Vintners Bar and Grill to do the tasting. There is an association between Vintners and the Artisans of the Barossa, of which Dan is a member, so it makes some sense doing the tasting there. At last Dan has a vinous home to call his own. The winery is located on the back streets of the western side of Rowland Flat.

 

The original building was erected in 1844 and for a number of years it was the only building in the area. It sits on the top of the hill, so it has a splendid vista. It was originally built by pastoralists called Chapman who lived up north, and owned 2,000 acres here. The house was built for the manager of the property. The house became a shearing shed for a period of time, until a purpose-built shearing shed was erected. In the late 1990s it was converted into winery. When Dan moved in, the only winemaking equipment there was the concrete fermenters, but the location had been used as Torbreck's second winemaking site.

 

There are two brands coming out of the site. The first is Massena which is owned by Jaysen Collins and Dan Standish. The second is The Standish Wine Company label which is owned by the Standish family.

 

Dan is heavily into Rhone style wines. They are the sorts of wines he likes to drink, and the Rhone influence extends through to some of the facets of his winemaking.

 

Both Jason and Dan enjoy making wine and experimenting. Every year they try and find some new varieties to play with, and every year they play around in their own vineyard too. Currently they are growing Saperavi, Tannat and they now have a new clone of Primitivo planted too.

 

Before we got stuck into tasting the finished wines, we tried a few samples. The rosé sample was made primarily from Grenache that also included some Mataro, Cinsault and a little Durif. The grapes were picked early with the intention of making rosé, rather than bleeding the wine off. It was cold stabilised which has given it a wonderfully spicy bouquet. The palate had luscious chocolate characters and a very attractive mouth feel. Savoury characters come from barrel fermentation. I could drink a rosé like this, but only if somebody forced it down my throat.

 

When we walked into the cellar door, there was a real “suss” looking character having a “tasting.” The funny thing was, he was “tasting” the same wine over and over and over again. He must have been shady; he works in the car business, and is a fan of TORBWine. Hi John!

 

Massena 2006 Barbera sells for $23 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet was slight pongy with milk chocolate, but thankfully the pong didn't come through on the palate. Tight, unobtrusive, slinky tannins combine with fresh acid and pure fruit to form a medium-weight wine with a soft consistency, and an elegant, seamless structure. The complexity is harmonious and agreeable, as is the mouth-feel. Cherry and milk chocolate flavours dominate the palate and finish clean and linger nicely. A seductive, great food wine, it's rated as Recommended with *** for value; it's ready to go now.

 

Barbera is one of the few red grape varieties that is perfectly suited to the Barossa as it holds its natural acidity, even in the warm Barossa climate. Wonder why it is not more popular? They first planted this variety some years ago but didn’t have enough to enable a commercial release until now.

 

Massena 2005 The Moonlight Run sells for $25 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. It is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and Cinsault (60/20/10/10%). The bouquet shows an attractive, interesting spicy bouquet with all sorts of nuances. It has a top structure and great fruit where nothing sticks out, with the added bonus of being an excellent food wine. Silky tannins combine with fresh acid and pure, deeply-seated fruit to form a medium-weight supple wine with an almost seamless structure, and a complexity and it is harmonious in nature. Blackberry, black cherry, aniseed, coffee and dark chocolate flavours are attractive even though the flavour profile is primarily black. It finishes clean, long and dry. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, drink over the next six years. Although I was spitting, the glass kept beckoning me back for another sip, and that’s a great indication.

 

According to Dan, “The Cinsault has **** all colour, it is paler than rosé but the aromatics are wild, imparting spice, and although it only represents 10% it makes the aromatics jump out of the glass.” The Grenache used in this wine comes from vines with an average age of approximately 85 years old. There is some 120 year old vine component. They are dry grown and low yielding. The grapes are hand-picked and the decision when to pick is made on phenolic maturity in a very scientific manner; they taste the grapes!

 

You can't make good wine if you don't have access to good coffee!

 

When the grapes arrive at the winery, they are de-stemmed but not crushed which adds to the aromatic complexity. Whenever possible, indigenous yeasts are used and this wine contains 45 different parcels of grapes that were all fermented and basket pressed separately. The grapes spend up to 48 hours in the basket press, as they want it pressed very sloooooowly and gennnnnnntly.

 

This was the first wine that Jason and Dan made. They were drinking a lot of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and the plan was to make a single wine they would thoroughly enjoy drinking, and that would last them for two years. It’s grown just a bit bigger than that objective. Sounds like they tried to design a mouse and built a pony.

 

Massena 2005 The Eleventh Hour Shiraz sells for $32 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is earthy but as it opened up it started to show lifted blueberry aromatics. The abundant, controlled, silky tannins are well matched to the fresh and crisp acid, and the intense, sweet, bright fruit. It's muscular-weight with a supple consistency, a tight, solid, layered structure, and a well-developed complexity. Sweet and off sweet characters including blackberry, musk, chocolate, mocha, dried herbs and coffee flavours are locked into two intertwined layers going high and low through the palate, and completely hitting every taste bud. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2012 and beyond; it's a swanky drop.

 

Not to many wineries have their very own mobile phone tower! .............   ............

 

Massena 2005 The Howling Dog Durif sells for $35 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. It’s brooding and earthy, but the bright fruit lurking below is fighting to surface, which it will do with time. The spearmint is unexpected, but there is good aromatic complexity. A laudable structure has been achieved with dusty tannins, crisp acid, and strong, deep and pure fruit. Blackberry, plum, chocolate, spice, and mocha present both savoury and sweet characteristics; it finishes clean and dry on long tannins. A full-bodied wine with a firm consistency, and a solid, tight structure; the complexity is well developed and this big bastard needs time to show its best. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine reaches its peak drinking window around 2013.

 

According to Dan, it has taken six years to learn how to manage the tannins in this wine. They use in extended maceration on skins. After a 14 day ferment, they left the wine on the skins for a further 38 days. During that period the tannins build and build and build until they reach a precipitation point, at which time, they either blind back into the skins or drop out. That makes the wine a lot more approachable in its youth.

 

Standish Wine Co 2004 The Relic sells for $95 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. It has a seductively slutty nose with no overt Viognier character. The velvety tannins are tightly knit and provide an excellent backbone for this full-bodied, rich wine with a supple consistency, solid structure and harmonious complexity. Black cherry, dark chocolate, coffee, mocha, and multiple spices take until next week to finish. The tannins coat every nook and cranny of the mouth, but also fill the cavity with plenty of fruit. There is nothing subtle about this baby, and whilst it's great now, it will calm down with time. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2011+. It's a kick-arse wine.

 

The wine is matured in oak for approximately 2 years and then receives at least six months in bottle before release. Approximately 500 dozen have been made.

 

The Standish Wine Company 2003 The Standish sells for $95 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is brooding but shows vanilla oak and mushroom characters. Fresh and bright, superior-quality fruit is deep and strong, and delivers mouth-filling blackberry, black cherry, char/tar, black chocolate, aniseed and vanillin flavours that are off-sweet and surf the palate pipeline on a long, velvety, ultra-fine and tight tannin wave. It's muscular-weight with a supple consistency and a solid, tight structure and harmonious complexity. A princely wine, it is a great result for a difficult vintage and is rated as Excellent with *** for value; it should enter its peak drinking window at about 10 years of age.

 

The vineyard is approximately 95 years old and frequently cropped as low as a half a tonne to the acre, but has a maximum cropping level of 600kg per acre. During the harvest period, which can take up to 14 days, each bunch is picked when it is perfect as Dan is looking for different characteristics from the various bunches. Wild yeast is used to ferment the wine; it goes through malo in barrel and spends three years on lees. Lees are a great natural antioxidant and as a result, very little sulphur needs to be added. A variety of French oak is used but surprisingly only 5% to 10% of it is new, and the wine is not blended and bottled until it is three years old.

 

 When the 2006 vintage wines are released, three new single vineyard wines will come out under the Standish label. All will be very small production wines, with fruit is sourced from old vines.

 

We also tasted a sample of the Cardoza Effect 2006, which is a fortified Shiraz. The wine was fermented until the acid and sugar were in balance, and then two different brandy spirits were added until the optimal taste was achieved. It comes in at 17.8% and it has been made with the Portuguese style in mind. It comes across as being very dry and is eminently drinkable. When Dan was working his first vintage away from Torbreck, he was running the night shift at Elderton, and making his Massena wines there too. There was a cellar hand from Portugal named Max Cardoza. When a parcel of Shiraz came in, Max said that would make a fantastic port. Dan said, "Show me how.” And he did! The wine will go into 500ml bottles.

 

Whilst we were tasting the fortified, Nelson the Labrador came over for a pat. Brian got him to sit so I could take a photograph of him and apologised to Nelson because he didn’t have a treat. Brian being very couth, put his finger into the glass and offered it to Nelson. Being a Labrador, Nelson's number one job description is to eat, so without sniffing, Nelson licked Brian's finger. He then knowingly looked up and Brian and gave him a bark of disgust.  I actually didn't think the port was that bad! 

 

Now they have moved into their own winery they have complete control of the operation from start to finish, so the quality of the wine should get even better. The wines without exception were all good; it was just a case of how good. There was not one wine that I would not happily sit down and drink. All the wines have excellent structure and are rock solid. The house style is 100% consistent across the range and overall, it's a class act.

 

When tasting wines I often leave my recorder running for two reasons. Firstly I can't remember everything and secondly, frequently when you taste the wine and are writing the tasting note, the winemaker will drop an interesting point that is pertinent, but one that you miss. However it also picks up some unexpected “things” like this quote from his Pieship as he read an SMS message from “The Kid.” Hey Dad, you are on the school councils; do you know anything about a teacher who has been suspended for an assault on a student?” There was a pregnant pause as he continued to look at his phone and he said, “Yes…… but I'm not going to tell you. And it wasn't a teacher on a student; it was a teacher on a teacher.” And then without missing a beat, “This (Barbera) is very drinkable!”

 

We had a bit of time before our next appointment so we decided to drop into Turkey Flat. On most South Australian trips, I make time to visit Turkey Flat as I generally really enjoy their wines, and I was looking forward to this visit.

 

When we arrived there was a couple sampling the wines. The young fellow behind the counter eventually got around to serving us. He asked if we wanted to try the whites but we explained we were a bit short of time, and would just to do the reds.

 

We started with the 2005 Mourvedre, which is far from the most expensive wine on the list. The winery now uses Riedel glasses. Unfortunately the amount poured into each glass is probably the smallest I have ever received in any winery. Whilst there was sufficient quantity to be able to appreciate the bouquet in the big glass, there was not enough for me to be able to write a tasting note. After the first sip, my glass was empty. I swirled the wine around and spat it out. I really needed to think about this wine, and one sip resulted in less than a third of the details required for the tasting note. I politely asked our server for another sample, He could see I was making notes, spitting and was serious about what I was doing. In other wineries that poor less than generous servings, whenever I have asked for another pour, if anything, the second pour is larger than the first. Not here! The second sample was about half the size of the original pour. If ever I have seen a "screw you attitude,” this was it. Not impressed was an understatement. In no uncertain terms I told him it would be impossible to write a serious tasting note with the servings he was pouring, and walked out.

 

Whilst I know it is costly to maintain a cellar door and pouring wine can be an expensive exercise, there comes a point where scrimping and saving becomes counter-productive, and trying to save money actually costs more than you are saving. John summed it up brilliantly when he said it a prince and pauper principle. The Riedel glasses are the prince and the servings are the pauper. The principle of having really nice glasses to taste the wine is great, but if you are putting ridiculously small servings in them, you are doing yourself and your customers an injustice.

 

Our final appointment of the day was at St Hallett. If you want to experience a "cutesy” cellar door or a location that exudes character, this is not it; in fact it is probably one of the ugliest wineries in the Barossa, however it has one redeeming feature, it makes damn good booze. I have wanted to do a feature write up on St Hallett for some time, but have never got around to it until now.

 

We were looked after by Tony Barlow, the winemaker/site manager. Tony had only recently arrived at St Hallett's from the Mitchelton Winery in Victoria, another member of the Lion Nathan group.

 

The story kicks off in the second last year of World War II when the Lindner family decided to make some fortified wine. In 1988, the well-known Bob MacLean came on board and a new broom swept through the place. When MacLean arrived, Stuart Blackwell had already been there for about 10 years. It was during this time that Shiraz was as popular as a shark off Bondi Beach, and the short-sighted, dopey government (tautology) was paying people to rip out their old vine Shiraz. St Hallett was one of the wineries that encouraged people to keep their old vine material, and even bought grapes that were not really required in order to try and ensure the survival of the old vines.

 

The Old Block Shiraz was the first wine produced by St Hallett as a result of buying these grapes.

 

The next label was the Blackwell Shiraz which was first produced in the 90s. The Faith Shiraz was next. In 2001, Lion Nathan purchased the Banksia Group which included St Hallett, Tatachilla and Hillstowe. According to Tony, it took Lion Nathan a couple of years to work out what they had bought and what they were going to do with it. One of the smartest things they did was to allow each winery to operate independently.

 

Having a central production team that does things like ordering the label is very positive, but the ability of each winery to do its own thing when it comes to making wine, Tony feels is imperative. At St Hallett, the team of Stuart Blackwell, Tony, and Chris Rogers the viticulturalist, are the decision makers. There is excellent continuity of staff at St Hallett. Stuart Blackwell is not the only long-term employee. The majority of the cellar team have been there through the changes of ownership, so even though the place has changed hands a couple of times, the majority of the experienced team have remained.

 

In the case of Tatachilla, the wines are made at St Hallett by Franchon Ferrandi, who is based in McLaren Vale and travels up to the Barossa during vintage. The day to day cellar management is looked after by the St Hallett cellar team. St Hallett may have fared well during the ownership changes, but the same thing can't be said for Tatachilla. A number of the small producers in McLaren Vale have been delighted at being able to poach quality growers from Tatachilla over the past few years.

 

Mitchelton is another member of the group that has had massive staff changes. According to Tony, 17 general managers in 30 years took their toll on the winery's ability to remain consistent. It’s the consistency of the range that gets Tony most excited about being at St Hallett's.

 

St Hallett the Black Sparkling Shiraz is sealed under cork. The palate shows bright and fresh fruit with some leathery aspects and whilst it is generally off-sweet, with blackberry and chocolate flavours, the wine finishes clean and with drying tannins. It's a muscular-weight with a firm consistency, solid structure and an agreeable complexity. The flavour profile is interesting and this is a good quality sparkling Shiraz. The dosage ingredient is brandy spirit and its rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value.

 

St Hallett 2005 Gamekeeper sells for $15 and is sealed under screwcap. It is a blend of Shiraz, Grenache and approximately 5% Touriga. The bouquet shows blackberry but also has some slight "pongy nappy" characters. A minimum amount of silky tannins combine with crisp acid and obvious fruit to form a medium-weight, supple wine with a round structure. In some ways, it's almost Pinot like in character but a good bistro-style wine. The palate is gamey with blackberry and chocolate and it finishes crisp. Rated as Acceptable with *** for value.

 

The Touriga gives the wine its unique character, including bouquet. When I commented on the bouquet, Tony couldn't see it, but he was quick to state that he has an eight-month-old baby. The wine is tank fermented and sees no oak.

 

St Hallett 2006 Gamekeeper is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is more attractive than the previous vintage showing blackberry and perfumed characters. Driven by pure fruit that delivers blackberry, raspberry, and dark chocolate, the wine has a firm, clean and dry finish. It's medium-weight and backed by smooth, minimal tannins which provide a supple consistency, and it has an agreeable complexity. It's drinking well for the price and is a good bistro quaffer. Rated as Agreeable with **** for value.

 

St Hallett 2005 Faith Shiraz sells for $20 and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is bright and vibrant with intense fruit, and the noticeable oak shows vanillin and mocha characters. A solid, wine that is backed by silky tannins, the deep fruit delivers loads of ripe, fresh, bright flavours including plum and mocha oak; it finishes clean with good persistence. Ample-weight, it has a supple consistency and almost seamless structure, and the commendable complexity is harmonious and agreeable. A great value, easy-drinking wine, it is rated as Recommended with **** for value.

 

St Hallett 2006 Faith Shiraz will sell for $20 when it is released about now, and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is lifted, bright and vibrant with attractive, violet floral characters. The velvety tannins are seductive and provide a firm backing for this ample-weight wine with a soft consistency and harmonious complexity. Driven by pure, deep fruit, the palate is very ripe with plums, sour cherry and milk chocolate flavours that are lifted by the slightly-sour tannin finish. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, drink from 2010.

 

St Hallett 2005 Blackwell Shiraz sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is tight and brooding, but the floral nature is attractive. Velvety, drying tannins combine with pure, deep fruit to form an ample-weight, firm, and well-structured, solid wine. Black cherry, plum, vanilla, and chocolate flavours finish with a hint of red cherry, and whilst the oak is noticeable, there is enough fruit to sop it up. It is not as generous as the 2004, but the tannins are very long and it is a credible effort. It needs time to show its best and is rated as Recommended with *** for value, but the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window around 2010 and beyond.

 

St Hallett 2004 Old Block Shiraz sells for $70 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. On a yearly basis, it contains somewhere between 10% and 25% Eden Valley fruit. The bouquet is a serious as the price tag. Spicy oak and ripe floral aromatics provide splendid interest, and it's the sort of wine you can sniff all day. A gilt-edged structure has been achieved by the use of intense, pure, deeply-seated, strong fruit and silky-smooth, chewy tannins. It's a full-bodied, firm, solid, tight wine with an intricate complexity. The fruit is sweet with off-setting savoury flavours; plum, milk chocolate, aniseed, mint, cherry, dark chocolate, and mocha flavours are beautifully supported by mouth-coating tannins which finish long, dry and clean. One of the best wines of the trip, this is as good an Old Block as you will get. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, it should be at its best between 2014 and 2024, at which time the rating should improve.

 

That was the end of the formal tasting and it was time for a tour through the winery and barrel room. As we walked out of the tasting room, we noticed the large variety of fermenters available. There are 2-4 ton, 4-6 ton, 6-8 ton, 10-12 ton, 14-16 ton; and they are just about to install some 30 ton fermenters, to complement the existing 50 ton fermenters. That gives them phenomenal flexibility to be able to produce a huge variety of wine batches. All the fermenters are temperature controlled, even the smallest ones.

 

We tried numerous samples in the barrel room. The variety of the components available to the winery to make the finished wine is fantastic. It’s a blender’s paradise. Unlike most wineries, there is a ton of room for expansion in this barrel room. Speaking of the barrels, the winery uses a number of different suppliers, mainly French, and continually undergoes trials to see which barrels suit their wines best. The selection for barrels which will make up the Old Block and the Blackwell are done blind. To ensure optimal ripeness, up to four picks are made of the Old Block vineyard.

 

We tried a new, experimental wine that will be called the 2006 Top Dog Shiraz. The way than the wine is made is slightly unusual. A tailor-made access panel in the end of the barrel is removed, the fruit is put into it, the barrel is re-sealed and the wine actually ferments in the barrel. It's like a miniature roto-fermenter. The black forest cake flavours were attractive but the unusual aspect was the way the wine presented itself on the palate. Instead of the tannins being linear and travelling down the length of the palate, the flavours literally exploded horizontally. John said it should be marketed as, "Wine Listerine.”

 

We also tried a number of samples of 2006 Old Block material. It will be a sexy wine. The flavours are remarkably consistent and have a huge depth of concentration.

 

Whilst we tasted, the subject of water came up. It was easy to see Tony is very concerned about the lack of water available for viticulture. He said, “Water management is critical. People have to come to terms with extended drought and change their practices to manage the problem. To give you an example, people who got water down early in 2007 and got a good canopy, didn't have an issue with yields and produced vibrant fruit. How you manage your water will make a big difference in the future. Water will be in short supply. It will no longer be a case of ‘we will put water down some time this week’, it will be a case of we need to put it down at an exact point."

 

Whilst I realise that water is a major concern, the pong in various parts of the barrel room was worse than a Pommy labourer’s armpit in the middle of summer. The cause: the drains needed flushing out.

 

Reliability and consistency are probably the two best words that describe St Hallett Shiraz. Having Stuart Blackwell there overseeing the operation for over 30 years, as well as a number of other long-term players, certainly show the value of retaining staff. Sure, we didn't get a lot of the romance that is often associated with smaller wineries, but we did get to try some excellent wine, and whilst romance is lovely and adds to the occasion, you can't drink it.

 

When Bob McLean sold St Hallett and left the winery, he opened up a terrific restaurant in Angaston. Unfortunately, although it seemed very popular, it didn't remain open for terribly long. When we arrived in the Barossa on this trip, as usual we asked the locals where we should eat. Every one was telling us about The Branch which had opened up in the last week. As coincidence would have it, it is owned by Bob MacLean.

 

It's located in old bank building at the main intersection in Nuriootpa. The building has been extensively renovated and has gone from an old world bank with very high ceilings, to an ultra-modern, up-market cafe come restaurant. Noise suppression material is nonexistent; the walls are brick and there is no carpet on the floor, so expect it to be noisy.

 

The chef used to be at 1918, so the food should be good. There is an all-day breakfast menu, and some of the items on the brunch menu are also available all day, like Caesar salads which provide an adequate selection of dishes. There is also a tapas menu which range in price from $2.80 to $4. There are no normal starters on the menu, although there is soup of the day as well as a one-size pizza that comes in five different varieties.

 

The selection of main courses is extremely limited. There are only five of them, ranging in price from $22 for osso bucco to $32 for the rib eye steak. Sides are an additional $7 per dish, so the main courses look expensive for what is an upmarket cafe.

 

For a brand new restaurant, they have made a couple of ridiculous errors. They are in the heart of Australia's premier wine region, and the wine list does not have vintages on it. We later found out this was because in the hurry to get the restaurant open, they were not confident in their suppliers providing correct vintage information to them, and this problem will be addressed when the wine list is reprinted.

 

When we walked in, I also noticed a number of the wine bottles stored with the neck pointing to the ground. This will ensure that all the sediment goes through the wine when it is opened. The wine glasses were bordering on pathetic. Only one size is available and they are generic and thick rimmed. When Brian asked if they had any better glasses available, he was told by our waiter they were, "very good quality, all-purpose wine glasses." That's right, insult your customers’ intelligence. The waiter was keen to push product, and this came across loud and clear.

 

Their wine prices are also not exactly good value. The Elderton Command is listed at $220 when it is approximately $80 at cellar door, although the average mark-up is probably 100%. Corkage is $15 per bottle. On the plus side, the wines were professionally decanted and the service very good.

 

The first wine opened was a Seppelt 1994 Show Reserve Sparkling Shiraz. When this wine is released, it was available with both crown seal and cork. The first six-pack I purchased was under crown seal, but the second six-pack was under cork. Wouldn't you know it, this bottle was corked. It was initially reasonably mild, but with every single taste, it got worse and worse. 9/10 of the bottle was used as a bubbly drain cleaner.

 

Whilst we were sitting there the moaning all the corked wine we had experienced over the last week, his Pieship came up with another one of his brilliant philosophical pronouncements. "I think we should all learn to embrace drinking wet hessian.”

 

The next wine opened, a Petaluma 1994 Coonawarra that Brian brought was also corked. By this point we have to be approaching a world record.

 

Thank God the Rosemount 1996 Balmoral Shiraz that I bought it was singing from the rafters. The tannins have integrated beautifully and the acid is still bright. The pristine fruit delivered plum, chocolate and is starting to pick up the first sign of aged, leathery characters. It finishes long with crisp, clean acid. Rated as Excellent.

 

We decided to order tapas for our starters. When we ordered, our waiter told us that there would be three of everything. When they arrived, there were only two servings of octopus and only two servings of pate. The tapas sausages were both hot and tasty. The sushi was vegetarian, and I don't think it mentioned that on the menu. It would have been better if the rice had been cooked properly. The octopus was very tasty.

 

The starters came out in double quick time, which was positive, and when the waiter asked us if we liked it, it was not a perfunctory question, he genuinely wanted to know. It turned out that he was Adam McLean, Bob McLean's son. Although he initially gave us the corporate line, once he worked out that we were smart enough to know the difference between our individual posteriors and the bend in our arms, he started to talk to us as though we were regular human beings. If anything, this relaxed attitude made him look a lot more professional.

 

Luckily the next bottle opened was also okay, it was a Wendouree 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon. At last, John has brought a bottle that is not corked. The bouquet was tight, unyielding, earthy oaky, and tannic. The palate showed mint, more mint and eucalyptus, but under the massive tannins lurked top-quality, intensely savoury fruit. The blackberry flavour added a dimension of sweetness and the package lingered well. Rated as Excellent.

 

Whilst we were drinking this wine, John was bemoaning the fact that he didn't get any Wendouree Pressings because he didn't get his order in on time. When I told him not to worry, if he didn't get to share some of mine on one of the future trips, I would leave them to him. Like a rifle shot, John instantaneously said, "Turn on your recorder and make sure you get that down, I what the proof in writing.”   Whilst I don't wish to be rude to John, I hope if he does inherit them, they will be well and truly over the hill.

 

For a main course, I ordered the double roasted duckling which was partially boned and served on beetroot and sour cherry jus. The sweetness in the Balmoral clashed horribly with a duck, but the Wendouree was a good match.

 

The servings were huge. John ordered osso bucco which came with a small dab of potato, about 4 kg worth. John said, "The flavours were great, the potato was cooked to perfection and there was more than enough to fill me up." Brian ordered a medium-rare, rib eye of veal on the bone, but I think he got half a cow. It was medium rare on the bone, but a bit too well cooked on the outside. The large quantity of sautéed button mushrooms included on the plate were very tasty, although Brian felt there could be less of them and some mash or other vegetable that would have provided a better balance to the dish.

 

                                     This would give anyone nightmares!

 

Over this meal, I saw two things for the first time. Shock horror! The first was, there was so much food that John failed to eat it all. The second was, Brian and I finished eating at about the same time.

 

During one of our conversations with Adam, he told us that the place had been set up to concentrate on the daytime trade. When we asked about dessert, we were told they do not have a dessert menu but there was a selection of cakes available, as well as a cheese platter. I looked at the cakes on display, but they seemed like they had been baked to look good, rather than taste good. I passed on dessert.

 

Although the price of the main courses at $32 looked to be over the top, especially when sides were $7 extra, when you consider how inexpensive the tapas work out to be, and that the serving size of the main courses are huge, it actually turns out to be reasonably priced. Overall, we had an enjoyable meal and whilst the restaurant has a few teething problems they need to sort out, the food, although not gourmet, could not be faulted.

 

Over dinner, we discussed Sue’s occupation as a geriatric nurse and how difficult it must be to hold that position. I commented that the only thing I think would be worse would be an undertaker’s job. John Sensitivity Pieship replied, "I would have no problem with that job. You rock up and just say to the family, too bad, so sad, time to move on.”

 

And with that comment, it's time to close another chapter.

 

 

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Click here for Chapter Seven

 

Feel free to submit your comments!

From: Mike Pollard 7 November

Nice update.

The small pours and service at Turkey Flat remind me of a story a friend told me about her days as a barmaid. She was pouring beer and the customer asked her "Do you know how you can sell more beer? She replied "How?" The answer came back "Fill up the bloody glasses!"

The most disturbing service at a CD I've had recently was at Stonecroft in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. The guy behind the bar was the son of Alan Limmer (the owner) and while he has very helpful (even if he didn't know too much about the wines), his continual picking at the soles of his bare feet in between pouring wines was........yuk!. Hopefully its something he didn't learn from his winemaker dad!

Agree with the Winter Creek wines and the hospitality of David and Pam Cross - wonderful. We haven't seen their wines since the 2003 vintage here in San Diego, but a bottle of the 2002 Shiraz opened up a few weeks ago was a standout amongst a few other 2002 Barossans - bettered only by a 2003 Seppelt St Peters.

Mike

From: Stuart Barton 12 November

This comment is specifically on Jacob's Creek. This would have to be the worst cellar door in the Barossa; bar none.

Last October my wife Heather and I went in with David & Pam Cross as we had an hour to kill before an appointment at Seppleltsfield. We were hoping for a taste of the Steingarten Riesling - a wine of considerable quality and, for you, unfortunately the wrong colour.  We were promptly asked were we there for tasting - bleedingly obvious, but we said yes - and there were, indeed, four of us. We then had 4 glasses dumped in front of us - empty at the time, and so they remained. No question on what we wanted to taste. We waited. And waited. And saw at least six others arrive and commence tasting. And we waited some more. And, at the 25 minute mark, we drew stumps, declared the fixture washed out and went up to Turkey Flat and had some really good service as well as a very passable Grenache and a pretty good Shiraz.

In April this year we were visiting Pam & David again so we went back to Jacobs Creek, this time without the Cross'. The scrum packed around the tasting bar was incredible, so we gave it a miss and will never return. There are too many good people making good wine in the Barossa to bother with this place.

One thing bothers me - did you try the Winter Cack 05 Chardonnay & 06 Sauvignon Blanc (both from the Adelaide Hills), or did Crossie decide not to insult you with such insipidly coloured wine? Actually for all the white wine drinkers they are both pretty damn good. My wife (another notable red bigot) will actually drink them.

Cheers Stuart

TORB Responds: Stuart, if its not written up it ain't tasted. David might get away with all that rubbish "poi" talk but he would not be game to plonk (bad pun intended) a glass of c-though down in front of me as! (Rick Burge does, but in his case its driven by fearless stupidity and naivety, and its often not his own wine; sometimes its imported muck like Chateau Furkin Expensive C-Through, Dom something-or-other, or local muck like Giaconda Shar-don-ay.) 

From: DJ 17 November

Above you say "In 1978 he became the warehouse manager at Orlando. At that stage, the company was called Orlando Wyndham and it included the Jacob's Creek label. When Pernod Ricard took over in the early 1990s the job started to look a whole lot bigger, and different."

As far as I can work out "Orlando" in 1978 would have been G. Gramp & Son. Orlando Wyndham was formed in January 1990 when Orlando bought Wyndham (I was a cellar rat for Wyndham (@ Hunter Estate) at the time - for about 2 days it was the biggest wine company in Australia, then Penfolds and Lindemans merged). Haliday's 1990 Aust Wine Guide notes that during 1989 Pernod Richard had bought 50% of Orlando after a previous management buyout.
Hmm second diary I've made ownership comments - a historian or a pedant?
 

TORB Responds: David, we are both wrong! I also double checked and the Len Evan Complete Book of Aust Wine says, "In December 1970 Orlando - formerly known as G Gramp and Son Pty Ltd - was bought by the English Corporation Reckitt and Coleman. They did buy Wyndam Estate in 1990, so at the time Bruce joined, it was just Orlando, not Orlando Wyndam or G Gramp as you suggested. I have fixed the original text.

 

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