The 2007 South Australian Tour Diaries

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Chapter Eight – Thursday – The Barossa

 

Welcome to the last Chapter of the 2007 SA trip. It will cover both Thursday and Friday, but before we get into that, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people that make this Tour Diary possible. Firstly to Sue Davis for opening her home up to Brian and me, and then dumping her husband….. sorry that should read allowing John to spend the rest of the time away from home with us. The trip would not be the same without the Pie King’s antics and wonderful dry sense of humour, so thank you John. They broke the mould when John was made, and I understand there is no proof in the rumour that John’s father-in-law threatened the good Lord with GBH unless he had a guarantee there would never be another person like John.

 

My good mate Brian (Red Bigot) is not only a great travelling companion and sounding board for ideas, he also puts in a huge effort editing this Tour Diary, so if you have any complaints in that area, blame him and not me.

 

Hi-tech vineyard spraying equipment

The Tour Diaries would not be possible without the tremendous generosity and hospitality of the wineries, many of which go to extraordinary lengths to cooperate and tell us their personal story. Finally, my children, Sam, Goofy, Red and Sherry would like to thank their Aunty Lynne for allowing them to invade her home, especially when it has been raining for most of the time I am away. A wet 60kg Newfoundlander is not exactly a convenience in your lounge room.

 

To all those involved, my sincere gratitude and thanks; it is appreciated.

 

Planning Thursday was dead easy; it is an exact repeat of the Thursday’s itinerary from last year’s trip. The day was centred on a Rockford Long Lunch and that only left time for a couple of morning appointments.

 

The first appointment was at the Angaston end of Nuriootpa so we went to Blonde Coffee for breakfast. What a civilised place, it opens at 7:30 a.m. and serves damn good coffee. The breakfast menu is limited, but what they do, they do well. No bacon and eggs here, and even worse/better depending on your point of view, no meat pies, but the pre-made sandwiches, which are then freshly toasted, looked good. We all had the same toasted sandwiches, double-smoked leg ham, cheddar, cheese and tomato. The sandwiches are best described as a “doorstops” and don't leave one begging for a second; more like a plunger to force it down.

 

The formula for Blonde Coffee is extremely simple. Keep it simple, and it works. Over breakfast, we were not subjected to one of the Pie King's philosophical proclamations. His apprentice had a go instead. Brian said, "They should make this coffee mandatory in every coffee shop in the district, because by a long way, with the exception of Salters, it is the best coffee in the area.” How true.

 

Not being able to come up with anything as philosophically brilliant, his Pieship with his head bowed and whilst muttering into his beard said, "They should make cutting the crusts off the sandwiches mandatory, they are too healthy for me." 

 

The first appointment of the day was at Kurtz Family Vineyards. Last year's trip showed that Steve Kurtz was right back on form and producing amazingly good value, fault-free wines, and I was hoping we would find the same thing on this visit. In case you don’t know the background of this winery, they are long-time growers who sell most of their fruit to Wolf Blass (now Fosters). One block in particular regularly goes into one of the top Blass labels, so theses guys are no slouches when it comes to growing good grapes.

 

Steven Kurtz worked for many years at Blass/Fosters in a variety of capacities and picked up some winemaking knowledge by osmosis. He originally started playing around making his own wine more as a hobby than anything else, and it slowly grew to the point where it keeps him occupied full time.

 

I found him in the early days of his winemaking journey and Steve appreciated the business generated by my reviews, so anyone who buys direct from him and mentions TORBWine, gets “mates rates.” 

 

Kurtz Family 2005 Seven Sleepers will sell for $132 a case to TORB's mates ($11 a bottle), when it is released shortly. The wine is sealed under screwcap and has an RRP of $15 a bottle. In reality, this should be called the Six Sleepers as there are only six varieties in this years blend. The bouquet is fruit driven, showing diverse aromatics with varietal Cabernet notes, plums, vanilla and chocolate. On the palate, the bright fruit is shouting for attention, with cocoa, plum, blackcurrant, vanilla and chocolate flavours that finish clean. With enough dusty tannins to hold the wine together, there may not be a lot on the back palate, but it has loads of flavour to compensate. Medium-weight with a supple consistency and short structure, this is a very-easy drinking wine with tons of fruit for the dollar. Drink over the next three years; it is rated as Acceptable with ***** for value. At this price point, quaffing wines don't come any better!

 

                                                            Bud Burst

Kurtz Family 2005 GSM sells for $156 a case ($13 a bottle) to TORB’s mates, or $18 a bottle recommended. The wine is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows sweet blackberry notes with vanilla and charcuterie below, and with hints of milk chocolate, it's attractive. A well-made, clean, solidly balanced wine that is driven by pure fruit, and backed by silky, chalky tannins, it's medium-weight with a supple consistency, and has a diverse, harmonious complexity. This is a cuddly wine that is easy-drinking, will go well with food, and shows some restraint. Flavours of blackberry, black cherry, plum, dark chocolate and mint have a meaty, spicy finish. Rated as Recommended with ***** for value (at mates rates,) you would be crazy to miss it.

 

Kurtz Family 2005 Boundary Row Shiraz sells to TORB’s mates at $18 a bottle or a RRP of $22 a bottle, and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows a great expression of bright Shiraz fruit with plum, sweet vanilla, floral notes, and spice. Silky, dusty tannins combine with pure fruit to form an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, and an agreeable complexity. Blackberry, violets, plum and chocolate flavours, together with loads of dried herbs, finish slightly sour but with good length. It’s approachable now, but will probably reach its peak drinking window around 2012. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, based on the mates rates price.

 

All the wines are well-made, clean and the house style is consistent. The wines are getting better every year and are more consistent than ever. Three wines tasted, two with five-star for value ratings and one with a four star value rating; at these prices you would be hard pushed to find every day drinking wine that were better quality.  

 

There are only a limited number of wineries that I visit every year without fail. Elderton Wines is one of them. I have been cellaring and drinking their wines since almost the start and have rarely been disappointed. Year on year, improvements are made slowly and with careful consideration. For example, if they decide something needs to be changed they don't try and do it in one hit, they do it one step at a time and will move towards their goal over a number of vintages. This process is smart because the wines are more consistent, and the chance of getting it wrong is substantially reduced.

 

On past visits, any changes that were made were not seen because they were invariably carried out in the winery. When we walked in we couldn't believe the place. The outside is exactly the same, but the inside of the cellar door was brand, spanking new.

 

I had tried to make an appointment with Allister Ashmead but after having put him through some 9 a.m. Sunday starts years ago, he too decides to leave town as soon as he hears I am coming. And just to be on the safe side, on the last two occasions we visited, his brother has left town as well.

 

Note: Most of the wines are available in both cork and screwcap sealed bottles. The wineries preference is for screwcap and will only show them under cork is the screwcap bottles have sold out. 

 

Elderton Estate 2005 Merlot sells for $25.95 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows pleasant aromatics; it's earthy, leathery and has musk notes. A medium-weight, supple wine with some elegance, it is well backed by silky, powdery tannins, unobtrusive acid and pure fruit. It’s savoury with plum and rich chocolate flavours that finish long clean and dry.  Whilst it is an enjoyable, good wine, the previous vintage was better; rated as Recommended with *** for value, drink from 2010+.

 

Swish new Cellar Door at Elderton.........................................

Elderton 2004 Estate Cabernet sells for $21.95 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The freshly opened bottles started off a little reductive but blew off to leave a bouquet that was heavily influenced by oak, with sweet fruit and herbal notes below. A muscular-weight, firm, solid wine, it is backed by smooth, powdery tannins and driven by very ripe fruit that delivers blackberry, chocolate, plum, dried herbs, and cocoa flavours. It finished with slightly-sour, lactic tannins. It is varietally correct but uninspiring and slightly missed the mark. It lingers well but it is a little forward. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

Elderton Estate 2005 Shiraz sells for $24.95 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The oaky vanilla dominance on the bouquet did not follow through onto the palate. It's a medium-weight, supple wine with a solid structure and dare I say it, unbelievably for this label, shows elegance. The plum, cherry, milk chocolate and dark chocolate flavours finish long and dry. It's clean, modern, and much lighter than previous vintages but I believe they have pushed the pendulum a bit too far, and whilst the wine cannot be faulted, the previous couple of vintages were better. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, from my perspective this wine is boring.

 

Elderton Estate 2004 Ode to Lorraine sells for $38 at cellar door and is sealed under cork (only.) It is a blend of 57% Cabernet, 27% Shiraz and 16% Merlot. The perfumed aromatics are sexy and show musk, chocolate and all sorts of other goodies. The pure fruit is currently buried by the silky-smooth, dusty tannins which needs time to kick through. It's a well-structured, ample-weight, firm, solid, tight, elegant and harmonious wine that will become seamless in time. With plum and chocolate, it is rich and dark, with blackberry and mocha flavours to boot. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine reaches its eighth birthday.

 

Elderton 2004 Ashmead Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $85 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. Brian took one sniff and said, "This smells like a classy, oak matured cognac." The coffee oak is loaded but there is enough pristine fruit to gobble it up. A full-bodied, bloody serious, solid and tight wine with a sophisticated complexity; it has been perfectly constructed. The deeply-seated, pure, strong fruit is currently buried by the profuse, silky, dusty tannins. The palate is rich and varietal with cherry, red and blue fruits, chocolate, and ripe dried herb flavours that saturate the palate and finish long, dry and fresh. A top-quality Cabernet, this is their best to date. Rated as Excellent with *** for value; drink from 2014 to 2024.

 

Elderton 2005 Ashmead Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for $85 at cellar door when it is released late in November, and is sealed under screwcap exclusively. The bouquet showed interesting perfumed aromatics lurking below the blackberry and vanillin oak characters. After a few minutes coffee oak started to emerge. Driven by rich, pure, deeply-seated fruit, the wine has a great mouth feel. Sour cherry, mocha, leafy characters, cassis and other good stuff finishes dry. It's a muscular-weight, firm, solid and tight. It needs time but it is a little more approachable, elegant and refined than the 2004. Rated as Excellent with *** for value; drink from 2010.

 

                                    Not all Cellar Doors are as swish as Elderton's

Elderton 2003 Command Shiraz sells for $85 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. Coconut and coffee oak dominate the big, dark, chocolaty fruit. A great result for the vintage; it's a big, oaky, old-fashioned, wine that is lovely. Coffee, coconut, chocolate, plum, aniseed, and hints of dried herb finish long and dry, and whilst there is some warmth on the palate, it's cuddly and perfect for a cold winter’s night. A full-bodied, firm, silky wine with a well-developed complexity, it is rated as Excellent with *** for value; drink from 2012.

 

Elderton 2004 Command Shiraz will be released on 1st March 2008 and both cork and screwcap versions will be available; screwcap locally and cork internationally. This is seriously sensual and will give you a better high than sniffing petrol. Hints of cranberry, perfumed soap and flower petals are just some of the addictive scents that captivate the olfactory senses. This is as soundly constructed as steel reinforcing rods in concrete. The deep, deep, deep, pure fruit is off-sweet and delivers dark cherry, cranberry, milk chocolate, and these flavours are complemented by mocha and coffee oak characters, with further complexity being added by a secondary layer of sweetness running below. The long, linear tannins drive the fruit through the palate at a snail's pace. A muscular-weight, supple wine that is both elegant and tight, the wine has loads of refinement and is all class. The best Command yet, it is rated as Excellent with *** for value, but the rating should improve as the wine reaches its peak drinking window between 2016 and 2024.

 

The winery's conservative approach to making changes to their wines is paying dividends. With every single visit you can see the slow evolution of the wines. The Command has gone from being a monolithic oaky alcho-shake to being almost restrained. The wine has oodles more class than it had a decade ago. The structure of the wines is generally far better now, and the Command manages to maintain the power of the fruit without kicking your teeth out while you drink it. It now just gives you a gentle slap across the face instead.

 

A couple from the Estate range of wines were not as good as expected, especially given the vintage conditions. This is undoubtedly where the slow and steady approach comes into play when making changes to the stylistic direction of the wine. Because they are only slightly off the mark, it will be easy to see where the improvement needs to be made, and because the adjustments will only be small, the chances are that in a short period of time, they will be back on track.

 

At 10 a.m., we tried to book a local taxi for 10.45 to take us from our motel to Rockford. We were told there were none available between 10.30 and noon. There sure is a shortage of local taxis in the Barossa so we decided to drive to Rockford, book a taxi to take us back to the motel after lunch, and then an early-morning taxi from the hotel to pick up the car. John was determined he was not going to drive this year and was going to enjoy himself. (Read write himself off. )

 

We had any 11 a.m. appointment at Rockford to taste the current range of wines, prior to our 12 o'clock appointment for lunch. We were looked after by Kate at cellar door.

 

Rockford 2003 Moppa Springs GSM sells for $23 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows super-sweet, red fruit with a spicy, off-sweet characters below, together with cherry and milk chocolate. A lighter style of wine, the pure fruit is backed by silky tannins; it is medium-weight with a supple consistency, and has an attractive mouth-feel. Aniseed, blackberry, milk chocolate and spice finish with a touch of green. A good food wine, it is rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Rockford 2004 Rod and Spur is a 55% Shiraz, 45% Cabernet blend selling for $29 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows red berry fruit with subtle Cabernet characters; it is restrained, as is the palate. Sweet on the uptake with off-sweet and spicy nuances, the milk chocolate, tomato leaf and savoury chocolate flavours finish with tart, crisp acid. The pure fruit is backed by unobtrusive, smooth, powdery tannins which form a medium-weight, supple, harmonious wine that is tight and shows some elegance. Rated as Recommended with *** for value the rating may improve as the wine matures over the next few years.

 

Rockford often has interesting cars in their car park........................................

As the 2004 Basket Press Shiraz has sold out, the Rockford 2000 Basket Press Shiraz was available in 375 ml bottles for $26.50 to Stonewall cellar door customers only. The bouquet showed blackberry, mushroom and forest floor characters which led to a similarly endowed palate that also showed chocolate, but it finished with noticeable, fresh acid and slightly green tannins. It's a medium-weight, firm, solid wine with an agreeable complexity and is rated as Recommended with ** for value.

 

Rockford 2000 SVS Hoffman Shiraz sells for $80 to Stonewall cellar door members only (now sold out), and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is clean and exudes pure, perfumed fruit with blackberry and cherry. Slightly powdery, velvety tannins produce a sensational mouth feel and combine with pure, deeply-seated fruit to form a medium-weight wine with a silky consistency and a tight structure that will become seamless in time. The palate is already harmonious and driven by perfectly ripe and pristine fruit which delivers black cherry, chocolate, mocha, and Dutch cocoa flavours that finish crisp and dry on very long tannins. It needs time to show its best but is rated as Excellent with *** for value; drink from 2011.

 

Rockford 1999 VP sells for $62.50 to Stonewall customers and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is tight, clean, dominated by liquorice and has excellent complexity. Driven by pure, deep, strong fruit and backed by velvety tannins, the 14-year-old brandy spirit is noticeable but the fruit certainly is a match for it. Savoury, spicy characters, liquorice, chocolate and coffee flavours combine to form a very long, lingering finish. A muscular-weight, rich, seamless wine with a harmonious, diverse and intricate complexity, it's a very fine wine and rated as Excellent with *** for value.

 

When I received confirmation for the lunch booking, under food allergies it had "Loves Pies!" That might apply to His Pieship and his Apprenticeship, but it sure as hell does not apply to me, but I was not worried because even if there was a pie on the menu, it would be home-made, and not one of those mass-produced, piss-poor excuses for fodder that is theoretically fit for human consumption.

 

We started pre-lunch proceedings with the Rockford 1990 Black Shiraz and the bouquet showed an excellent combination of aged characters and fresh fruit. The palate followed the nose with some a wonderfully complex, aged leathery and yeast like characters, together with ripe blackcurrant. It would be hard to find a better aged Sparkling Shiraz than this one and it finished very long. The 1996 vintage we had last year had fresher fruit, but this wine was in the same class. The second bottle open was more advanced than the first, which indicates the vagaries of cork. Rated as Outstanding.

 

In last year's final chapter of the Tour Diary, I did an extensive write up on the background and the philosophy behind these lunches, so I won't repeat those details here, but I will add items that may be of interest that did not come to light at the last lunch. Obviously Robert O'Callaghan can't sit down for lunch twice a week every week, as he would probably die of either boredom or too much of a good thing. The job of hosting the lunches is split amongst the senior staff that have the philosophy of Rockford at the centre of their being.

 

Our host for the lunch was Lynette and she told as a very interesting story, which went even further back into the background, in fact to the very roots of how the Rockford dining room came to be established. Lynette should know, she was there at the time.

 

These lunches actually have their antecedents in the early days of the winery. Robert would often have a pot of soup on the go, and if people arrived at the right time, he would offer them a serving. At first thought, this may sound a little strange, but the story gets better. In the early days, things were very slow and the visitors were few and far between. The offer of the soup was more than just hospitality; Robert hoped the visitors would stay so that he would have somebody to talk to.

 

Lynette started working at the winery part-time in those early days, and in summer, when visitors arrived, Lynette would often have to pop out of the pool and wrap herself in a towel so she could serve them. After 12 months she left the winery to pursue full-time work. When business started to pick up, 12 months later she was back and has been at the winery ever since.

 

As an appetiser we had sweet and sour pumpkin but it was not your modern, tasteless, plastic variety, it was an old-fashioned variety that was full of flavour. Interestingly the texture was very different to today's pumpkin; the texture was stringy and slightly woody, but the increase in flavour made it worthwhile.

 

The first course was termed "Oysters and Salsify." The dish consisted of local South Australian oysters on a bed of the leeks, celeriac, salsify, with a number of herbs including chervil, and it was finished off with lemon butter. It tasted as good as it looked! Although it was mainly vegetables, the dish was surprisingly rich and had a peppery, aniseed finish. It had crunch and an incredible complexity of flavours and textures and created a benchmark for the rest of the lunch. His Pieship must be feeling sick, he said, "Those vegetables are alright.”

The wine to accompany this course was the Rockford 2000 Vine Vale Riesling. They are very good about catering to people's “food allergies” so Brian and I were served the 2003 Moppa Springs GSM instead.

 

The atmosphere at this lunch was completely different to last year's event. Last year the conversation was inclusive of all the people at the table, and most of the time there was only one person talking at the table at any one time. It was generally quiet and reasonably sedate. This time it was noisy from the start. There were fourteen people and at any one time there were probably fourteen different conversations going on at once. I found the previous year's lunch more enjoyable as on this occasion, for much of the time it was hard to hear yourself think.  Brian thought the food was better this year, but I preferred many of the dishes the previous year.

 

With the second course, which was ham and beetroot, they were kind enough to give Brian and I some more of the Black Shiraz. It was a great choice as the Sparkling Shiraz and the beetroot was a match made in heaven. Whilst the description of ham and beetroot may sound simple, the dish was very tasty and the two ingredients matched superbly. There is nothing like organically grown and perfectly-cooked beetroot, and this dish was the purest expression of beetroot flavour possible. The main ingredients were served on a dish of assorted garden greens, but as I don't like that sort of greens, I avoided them. The locally grown and smoked ham had a texture that was far stringier than modern hams, but the flavour was a heck of a lot better. It had far more intensity of flavour and a better flavour profile, despite the heavy smoking.

 

The next wine served was a Rockford 1996 Basket Press Shiraz. The bouquet is starting to show signs of early aged leathery characters. On the palate, it's an absolute baby. Rated as Excellent. I did make a recording of the complete tasting note, but even with the recorder next to my mouth, unfortunately due to the background noise of people enjoying themselves, the above couple of sentences are all that I can actually decipher. That will give you an idea of the noise level. However later in the recording I found more detail on the wine. As it opened up, loads of milk chocolate started to emerge, and it has essentially a savoury nature although there is a reasonable amount of fruit sweetness as well. Some herbal notes are found on the finish.

 

When it came to discussing the wine, judging by the comments that were flying around the room, there was some variation between the bottles that we were drinking. I did try some wine from one of the other bottles, and that was certainly the case.

 

At this stage of the conversation, the subject of closures reared its head, but we did not bring it up. Lynette made some interesting observations. The first was that Robert is always aware of what's going on in the real world and is thinking about the options, but “refuses to make changes for fads.” Lynette used the example of glass stoppers and one organisation that had completed a couple of years experimentation with them only to find that they didn't suit. Lynette said, "It's not that Robert will never make changes, it's just that he won’t make changes because of a fad. Robert has to be confident that the changes that are made will give us, our wines, and our customers an improvement.”

 

Lynette also let us know that the feedback they had received on the cork versus alternative closure debate has been greatly in favour of leaving the way things are i.e. under cork.

 

The next course was Punjabi Style Red Kidney Beans which was done with lots of garlic, ginger, and cumin with fresh fenugreek on top. It was accompanied by a Red Indian Carrot Salad which had sultanas and yoghurt mixed through together with spicy flat bread. It was also served with a side dish of pickled white trees – yuk! The carrot salad finished a very clean and yoghurt gave it a lift at the end. There were loads of pepper characters that were offset by the sweetness of the sultanas. The cardamom imparted a rich spicy flavour to the beans.

 

The first bottle of Rockford 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon that was poured was rank with cork taint. The glasses that had been poured were whisked away, together with the bottles of wine that were to be poured. The staff were gone for at least ten minutes. Fresh glasses were given to those that needed them and the wine was poured.

 

I could not believe it, my glass smelt mildly, but distinctly musty and woody. I was convinced this one was corked as well. I didn't say anything for some time, wondering what the reaction of the people who got wine from this bottle would be. There was no reaction, I couldn't believe it. Everyone was raving about the wine. I turned to Lynette and said “I hate to tell you this, but this is corked too”. There was a look of horror on her face and she said, “It can't be; I checked each bottle very carefully and then we mixed the remaining bottles of wine together in a large decanter and decanted them back into the original bottles. So we are all drinking the same wine.” I handed her my glass and said “Smell that and tell me it's not corked”. It turned out that we are both right. The wine wasn't corked, the glass I had been given had been in a cupboard and had picked up a musty, woody smell from the timber and lack of air.  (The glasses were generally removed from the wooden cabinet and sat outside in the fresh air/sun for a while before serving, but the need to re-pour after the corked wine upset the process.)

 

Lynette........................................................

The logic given for combining the three bottles of wine was so that when we were discussing the wine, everyone would have exactly the same thing in their glass. Whilst I can't disagree with that logic, I can question why it wasn't done with all the other wines as well. I will speculate and say that it may have had something to do with having somebody there who was vocally critical about the vagaries of cork and by mixing all the wine together, it would stop any conversation in that regard.

 

It was interesting to note that earlier in the proceedings whilst we were discussing the 1996 Shiraz bottle variation Lynette actually stated Robert actually looked forward to bottle variation in a case of the same wine. I will have more to say about this in a follow-up story about our findings in relation to closures on this trip.

 

Unfortunately I have the same problem trying to decipher the tasting note for this wine has a background noise made it impossible to work out what was dictated.

 

We were told the next dish showcased what Michael and Ali (the chefs) did best. Michael was classically Thai trained. The meat used came from a Berkshire pig which is farmed locally in the Barossa. These are free-range, black pigs that are an old-fashioned variety and contain much more fat than today’s modern, lean pigs. That gives them a lot more flavour. (The extra fat will make the Pie King happy. ) The dish was described as Crispy Fried Belly of Berkshire Pork with Snow Peas. The dish was stir fried with caramelised garlic and coriander root. It also contained peanuts and lots of coriander and fresh mint.

 

Normally I'm not a great fan of pork belly because I don't really like fatty meat, but this dish was superb. Chock-a-block full of flavour. (Brian’s comment: The balance of seasoning and flavours was excellent, but was really only a “safe” homage to Thai flavours and style rather than trying to be a real Thai dish.  It seemed to use Italian parsley instead of coriander and of course I would have liked some more spiciness/chilli and a touch more acid/sourness to cut the fatty pork as well. ;-)  It was still very tasty and enjoyable though, I think I went back for “thirds”.)

 

The final dish was a Boysenberry Parfait with jelly and ice cream. Sounds simple, and in some ways it was, but scrumptious. The ice cream was actually apple sorbet and the raspberry jelly was home-made from fresh ingredients. It was served with a 1989 SWF Frontignac, which I didn't bother to taste as I had had enough to drink.

When I was eyeing off the dessert, Brian got stuck into me about my weight. John came to my defence and said, “You're as bad as a nagging wife” to which Brian instantaneously answered, "You'd know all about that.” (Brian’s comment:  Because John needs to be nagged a lot, not because Sue is a natural nagger!)

 

In typical Rockford fashion desert was followed by Mexican organic coffee or tea, and then people adjourned back to the Stonewall tasting room for port. It was a top lunch and when we left at around 4.30 p.m. there were still a number of people sipping their port. I say we, because Brian and I took a taxi back to our motel, but his Pieship decided to stay, and I think I know the reason why. (See picture at left.)

 

We had decided to meet back at our motel for a pizza later that night, but John rang to tell us he was going to stay at the pub instead. The Pie King missing out on pizza, now that is food for evil thoughts.

 

Brian ordered our pizzas but unfortunately he forgot to stipulate thin crust. One pizza probably would have been enough for the two of us and there was lots left over. Where are my dogs when I need them? The rest of Brian’s pizza didn't go to waste; he had it cold for breakfast the next morning.

 

 

 

 

Friday – The Barossa – The last day!

 

Our first appointment today was up near Angaston again. I had taken pity on lads and made it at 9.30 instead of 9 a.m. and by letting them sleep for a half an hour longer on the last day, I will be seen as getting compassionate in my old age. The fact that Greg Hobbs doesn't like a nine o'clock start has nothing to do with it; that's my story and I am sticking to it.

 

We had breakfast at Blonde Coffee again. Whilst we were waiting for our coffee to be made, Brian and I agreed that we both needed to have an alcohol free week, starting as soon as we got home. His Pieship lifted his head from the newspaper and said, "It's not time for my alcohol free week yet. I have mine on the second Tuesday of every alternate February, but only in a leap year.”

 

My breakfast was virtually a repeat of the day before, but as Brian had scoffed down cold pizza for breakfast, all he could manage was an orange and chocolate muffin.

 

Our next appointment was with one of the members of the Artisans of the Barossa. The Artisans group came about in 2005 a month before twelve boutique winemakers flew off to London for a joint promotional tour. For three weeks they travelled together, showed their wines together and in many cases shared hotel rooms, and when you live that closely together with a bunch of guys, one of two things is likely to happen. You are either going to bond together, or wind up hating each other. Luckily it was the former. They now support each other in the promotions of their wines.

 

These guys are all small winemakers and all produce well above average booze. The interesting thing about this venture is that everyone talks up everybody else's wines and actively supports the other members’ efforts. In the Barossa when you ask who else makes good wines, these guys actively promote their theoretical competitors. As John so aptly pointed out, in McLaren Vale when you ask that question, most small winemakers just shrug their shoulders and generally won't talk about their competitors. Having an organisation that enables them to support each other and help each other out makes a lot of sense. Marketing themselves as a group is also a smart thing to do, as the sum of the whole is much greater than the sum of the individual parts.

 

There are some marvellous old vineyards hidden away in the Eden Valley and the Barossa Ranges. Everyone has heard about the Hill of Grace vineyard and many have even heard of Chris Ringland's property, but one small producer that is not well known is Hobbs Wines. By chance, Greg Hobbs's property is directly across the road from Chris Ringland's place. I have done a couple of write-ups on this winery in the past, so I will spare you the details here, but suffice it to say the guy makes top-quality wine from some very old vine material. These wines can compete with almost anything that comes out of the Barossa or Eden Valley.

 

Hobbs 2005 Shiraz Viognier sells for $110 to mailing list customers and is sealed under a three-piece cork. The 4% Viognier component is co-fermented, but only the skins have been used, not the juice. The bouquet is jumping out of the glass with delightful, floral aromatics with just a hint of Viognier showing, and the blackberry is dominant. Fine, silky but powdery tannins combine with fresh acid and pure, deeply-seated fruit to form a medium-weight, supple wine with a rock-solid, taut structure and harmonious complexity. It's a quality wine with exemplary construction. High-tone black cherry, dark chocolate, Dutch cocoa and faint hints of apricots produce an interlocking of both sweet and off sweet characters, all of which finish very long and persistent. Rated as Excellent with ** for value; drink from 2012 to 2019.

 

Hobbs 2005 Shiraz sells for $130 to mailing list customers and is sealed under cork. The colour of this wine has to be seen to be believed, it was blindingly bright. The bouquet shows lifted, spectacularly perfumed floral aromatics with chocolate, dark berry and a stunning array of other aromas. A muscular-weight, supple wine with a solid and tight consistency, the complexity is intricate and delivers flavours of aniseed, five spice, mulberry, pepper, mocha and blueberry. The pure, strong fruit is stunning and marvellously locked to the silky tannins that hang around the mouth with the strength of vagrant gripping a bottle. A top-shelf wine, you can use all the superlatives in the world but they won't mean a thing until you drink it yourself. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, drink from 2013 to 2020.

 

Hobbs 2005 The Gregor sells for $130 to mailing list customers and is sealed under cork. It had been bottled not long ago so we were seeing it at its worst. By comparison to the previous two wines, the bouquet is restrained but still very attractive and showed excellent complexity from its floral characteristics. A distinguished structure has been achieved with the use of deep, strong fruit, together with fresh acid, and sensational, locked-tight, silky tannins. Just touching muscular-weight, it has a supple consistency, a seamless and solid structure, as well as a harmonious and sophisticated complexity. Cherry, milk chocolate, mocha, five spice, white pepper, and more milk chocolate complete the package. It's all class and rated as Excellent with *** for value, but the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2015 and 2025.

 

Hobbs 2006 White Frontignac sells for $39 to mailing list customers for a 375 ml bottle and is sealed under screwcap. The wine showed delightful aromatics (despite the touch of sulphur due to its recent bottling,) together with apricots, honey and marmalade. The grapes were cane cut and allowed to dry on racks. Velvety tannins back the wine and also produce a wonderful mouth feel. A seamless, harmonious wine, I certainly didn't want to spit this one. The honey and apricot flavours are luscious and linger delightfully, and the finely poised acid keeps the finish clean and bright. Rated as Excellent with *** for value.

 

Hobbs 2006 Semillon sells for $39 to mailing list customers for a 375 ml bottle and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is more savoury than the Fronti and shows primarily citrus characters. It's plush and a little fat in the mouth with sweet flavours of orange character. A muscular-weight, uncomplicated wine it is rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value.

 

Hobbs 2006 Viognier sells for $39 to mailing list customers for a 375 ml bottle and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows sweet honey, and citrus notes. It sits beautifully and has a great mouth-feel. The balance and construction is superb. Sweet apricots and honey flavours finish long and dry. An ample-weight wine with a silky consistency and a tight, elegant structure; it has a harmonious complexity and is rated as Excellent with *** for value.

 

What a great tasting, not a bad wine amongst them; on the contrary, they all get an official thumbs up. The wines tasted on this visit were an improvement on those last year; especially the whites which I thought were a lot better. Greg's wines are not inexpensive, but when you crop to such low levels that is to be expected. No matter what you buy with a Hobbs label, you know it will be quality.

 

 

We had a little time up our sleeves with no appointments scheduled, and as we were virtually in the Eden Valley we decided to live dangerously and visit Henschke. I say “live dangerously” with a certain amount of jest, but regular readers will be aware of my scathing criticism of Brett infected wines from Henschke a number of years ago. Those comments ensured that I was no longer on Stephen Henschke’s Christmas card list.

When we arrived, a minibus was in the car park and the cellar door facility was fuller than the MCG on Boxing Day for a Test against the POMs. Brian and I decided to wait outside in the garden, whilst his Pieship fought his way to the counter to get three samples. When John emerged, he told us it was just as well we were not trying to taste in there as the facility had an overpowering concentration of perfume and aftershave.

 

Henschke 2005 Henrys Seven is an SGM blend with the addition of 5% Viognier, can be found on the street for $25 and is sealed under screwcap. It showed youthful, sweet perfumed floral aromatics that were very much into the raspberry/red cherry spectrum with milk chocolate as well. Silky, dusty tannins combine with fresh acid to form a medium-weight wine that sits well on the mouth. Flavours of mocha, plum blackberry and dominant dark chocolate flavours finish with herbaceous notes and with respectable length. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

Henschke 2004 Keyneton Euphonium sells for $35 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet was most attractive with lifted aromatics showing mocha oak, red berry and plum. It’s medium-weight with red cherry, plum, blackberry, milk chocolate and mocha flavours and backed by very-fine, powdery tannins that support a clean, drying, persistent finish. The fruit seems a little lean at the moment but that's because it needs time for the fruit to surface from below the tannins. If you intend cellaring the wine, don’t pay any attention to the current rated of Recommended with *** for value, the rating will definitely improve as the wine matures and hit its straps, around its 10th birthday. Under screwcap, this one should be long-lived.

 

Henschke 2004 Abbott’s Prayer is a blend of 88% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. The bouquet shows floral, perfumed musky violets, plum, and mocha/milk chocolate. Just ample in weight, mocha, musk and plum flavours are supported by sappy tannins that run through the entire palate and finish dry. It appeared to be slightly green and hard, and had a hole in the middle of the palate. Rated as Recommended with * for value.

 

Henschke 2004 Tappa Pass Shiraz sells for $55 at cellar door and is made from old vine material grown in the Barossa. The appealing bouquet is both sweet and spicy with blackberry, and milk chocolate. The structure is tight and backed by fine dusty tannins which also supply a lovely mouthfeel. The palate shows very ripe fruit with blackberry (that seems a bit lifeless,) mocha, dark chocolate, herbs and spices that all finish clean, and with good length. At this stage, the fruit is lean because it is buried by the abundant tannins, but given time it should poke through. Rated as Recommended with ** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures around 2012.

 

Even after everyone left, when we walked into cellar door and the staff had opened all the windows and doors, the place still reeked like an expensive bordello, all that perfume would take some time to air out. My pick of the wines was the ever reliable Keyneton which is not only good wine, but relatively good value.

 

Due to a bit of entirely brilliant navigation for which I must take sole responsibility, we took the long way round to get to Bethany. (Brian’s comment: That was two in one day; Ric decided on the wrong turn-off on the way to Hobbs and we had a lovely roundabout scenic tour on the way there. )  In reality, we were only going to Bethany because it was on our way to Charlie Melton's place. As Bethany was no longer on the way, as had to go out of our way to get there, as we approached Bethany, I asked Brian why we were going miles out of our way to get to Bethany and said, "Because it was on the way." It's hard to argue with logic like that.

 

 

Some things are meant to be and not visiting Bethany was one of them! When we arrived the place looked like a road construction site, because that is exactly what it was! They were redoing their driveway and we could not get in, so we moved on to the next place, which was selected by Brian and John. I really am living dangerously today. The selected winery is one where my last review was not exactly glowing; in fact scathing is probably a better description. I was sure if I walked in with my clipboard I would be instantly sussed, so decided to visit incognito, and was only armed with my recorder, which was not easy to spot in my pocket.

 

As we got out of the car at Kabminye Wines things were not looking (or smelling) all that fortuitous; it was blowing a gale and the air was laden with the odour of Chateau Rank Piggery. Luckily there was no sign of it in the cellar door. The two massive evaporative air-conditioners must have excellent filtration. When our host looked at me, he did a little double-take and I'm sure he recognised me, but to what level I am not certain. We ordered coffee before we started, which was excellent.

 

I tried to dictate my notes without being obvious about it, so they are necessarily brief, and more impressions than full tasting notes.

 

Kabminye 2004 Schliebs Block was sealed under screwcap. It showed its 15.7% lifted alcohol on the bouquet. Although it was very ripe on the palate there was a hint of sappiness on the finish.

 

The next wine we tried was a 2002 Shiraz; the level of cork taint in this bottle was blindingly obvious which can only mean the wine was not checked, or if it was checked, they need lessons in how to spot cork taint.

 

Kabminye 2002 Hubert Shiraz has certainly improved since I last tried it a couple of years ago. The fruit has now surfaced from below the tannins, but it is still an elegant, lean style of wine and at $45 a bottle, not great value. The fact that it is still for sale two years after I last tried it at cellar door speaks for itself.

 

Kabminye 2006 Zinfandel was laden with incredibly ripe fruit and finished with a little spice. Silky-smooth, unobtrusive, dusty tannins combines with very-sweet fruit with crisp acid that finish fresh. It was warm and cuddly on the palate, rather than being warm and objectionable. It’s a style that will polarise drinkers.

 

The rest of the rough impressions that I dictated show that whilst the wines have improved since my last visit, it is certainly a winery that I won't rush back to again. The Cabernet Shiraz blend was the standout wine and quite drinkable.

 

 

We drove next door to Charles Melton Wines. In last year's tour diary I stated, " The view is marred by the staff car park, and whilst you can easily put up with that, all the “junk” nearby is not an attractive vista.” The good news is that it is gone, and the front of the winery looks significantly cleaner and more attractive. It is now surrounded by vines and freshly mown grass. We were greeted by Charlie’s two Dalmatians, and even the pussycat came in to say hello. A very friendly place! Oh, and we also received a very warm, friendly welcome from the two legged staff (Sam) as well, only the Pie King complained that the two legged variety did not rub up and down against his shin and knee.

Charles Melton 2005 Father in Law Shiraz sells for $18.90 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. A soft, uncomplicated, red fruit driven bouquet that is replicated on the plate, which is ripe and sweet and shows cherry, milk chocolate and mocha flavours; it finishes clean and with reasonable persistence. It’s almost lean in weight with a silky consistency, seamless structure and harmonious nature; tannins are velvety and the fruit pure. An easy-drinking, light red that’s food friendly, it’s rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

 Charles Melton 2004 Shiraz sells for $41.90 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. Silky tannins combine with fresh acid and pure fruit to form a medium-weight wine with a supple consistency, and a seamless structure and harmonious complexity. Spicy, red berry fruit on the uptake moves into sour cherry, and then to milk chocolate with light, dried herb infused oak; it finishes clean and dry. A good-quality, elegant, food friendly wine, it is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value; drink from 2010 to 2014. 

 

                        The Pie Kings reputation precedes our visits.

The shock on Sam's face was caused by John when he asked for an order form.

 Sam responded “You mean you actually want to spend some money and order wine?”

Charles Melton 2005 Nine Popes was to be released on 1 October, is sealed under screwcap and has a recommended price of $48.90. The bouquet is clean, attractive but unusual in that it shows musty, mushroom characters. Silky tannins combine with deep, pure fruit and fresh acid to form a medium-weight, supple wine that is tight and has an elegant structure. The complexity is harmonious and diverse, and this is the best Nine Popes I have tried, but needs time for the tannins to resolve. It's rock-solid with an excellent construction. Red berry spectrum fruit, cherry, milk chocolate, and mocha flavours finish spicy, long, clean, and very dry. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value but the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window around 2012.

 

Charles Melton 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was to be released on 1 October, is sealed under screwcap and has a recommended price of $38.90. The bouquet has sensational, flora aromatics with (feminine) violets, and spearmint. It had sex appeal and had only just been opened! The abundant, silky tannins and pure, deeply-seated fruit are plush and sit beautifully and the mouth. A muscular-weight, firm, tight wine that has a harmonious and diverse complexity, it also shows some elegance. The fruit is perfectly ripe with both sweet and savoury nuances locked together. Red fruits, spearmint and hints of herb complete this very credible package. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, drink from 2012 to 2020.

 

The entire production of 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon sold out in eight days.

 

There will also be two the new single vineyard wines released on the first of October. The first is called the Grains of Paradise and is sourced from fruit from the Barossa floor. The second is called Voices of Angels and is sourced from fruit grown in the Eden Valley. They will both be priced at $48.90 and will only be available at cellar door. A hundred dozen of each wine have been produced, and unfortunately they couldn't find any in the winery for us to try.

 

Charles Melton is one of the most consistent producers in the Barossa. His range is relatively small but his wines are a little different and somewhat more elegant than many other producers. It's always a pleasure to taste his wines.

 

For the past week I have been running a strategic, guerrilla campaign to ensure that we were nowhere near the Lyndoch bakery at lunchtime. Unfortunately today I ran out of excuses and as Brian was driving, and parked outside, I had little option. Being a caring and sharing soul he said, “I am sure you'll be able to find something else in Lyndoch.” The Pie King, once again showing his sensitive side and said, "And even if he can’t, who cares." I glad to see that the employer-paid course that he attended on sensitivity training, has been such a resounding success.

 

To add insult to injury, it was my turn to pay for lunch again. Brian gave me his order and headed off to the butcher to pick up some mettwurst and John decided to sit outside in the sunshine. When I walked inside, it was so busy I thought they must have been giving the stuff away. They had sold out of many of the traditional favourites; there were no potato pies, no pepper pies, no goulash pies, and no ‘lots of other pies’. I couldn't fulfil the boys order, as nothing they wanted was available so I went for the closest thing. I got John a chicken and veggie pie and a plain meat pie. Brian also had a plain meat pie, but there was nothing, and I mean nothing that I wanted to eat from this place and to add insult to injury, they didn’t even sell Pepsi Light! I grabbed a Diet Coke, and that was to be my lunch. I cracked the seal, took a sip and almost threw up. I never even knew that Vanilla Diet Coke existed. Lunch just went from bad to no existent.

 

Brian quite liked his pie, but ladies and gentlemen, we have a first. His Imperial Pieship took one bite of his meat pie, screwed up his face, picked up said pie, walked over to the bin and shot it in. "I can't eat that, it has no flavour and is far too salty.” I never thought I would see the day. 

 

The good news is that after this disastrous effort, hopefully the Lyndoch bakery will be off the radar for ever.

 

The trip from Lyndoch to the airport was uneventful, so uneventful that I slept through most of it. We got to the airport in plenty of time to get the escape row seats with lots of legroom, and as soon as we had been checked in, I checked out the available food. Those with a good memory may remember that in Chapter One I started my culinary adventure with a pit stop at Hungry Jack's on the Hume Highway at Marulan (on the way to Canberra.) I thought two Hungry Jack's burgers in five years wasn’t going to kill me, so scoffed one (with “fries”) down for a late lunch.

 

As I have done in the last few chapters of this tour diary I will give the final word to my good mate the Pie King. As we were getting out of the car at the airport his head slowly came up from his chest and he looked me in the eye; I could see another one of his philosophical brain farts about to explode. His final parting words (not an original this time) to me were, “You are a paradox wrapped in an anachronism revolving around an enigma. See you next trip!” 

 

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