TORB’s Tenth SA Tour Diary (The May 2008 South Australian Tour Diary)
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Still holding my own against my cold and the nose was clear and drying out, so the news is good. No equipment was broken this morning and my name wasn’t in the obituary page, so it was going to be a good day for me, but I am not sure the boys will be as happy about the world. Brian’s cold is bound to get worse and John is likely to have a king size hangover, so I may have to watch my p’s and q’s this morning.
We had a great day planned. Three appointments with plenty of time left over to free wheel and try new places; that’s a good combination. The only likely downside would be breakfast. We needed to eat early and there is very little open at that hour on Sunday. The Wurst Haus opened at 8.00 am so we headed there. The last time we had brekkie here I was less than impressed so I was not looking forward to another visit. Still, at least I was not expecting much, so with low expectations I would be unlikely to be disappointed. We arrived at around 8.15 am and they were doing a roaring trade. The place was packed, but given it was the only place open I guess that's not surprising.
Speaking of surprises, the boys got an unpleasant one. They were both wearing the same T-shirts. High camp! John said, "What can I say. Great minds think alike…… yet somehow our minds have managed to remain connected.”
John looked a little seedy, but nowhere that as bad as I had expected. Brian asked him if he had kicked on at the bar after dinner. His response was, "No way. I am getting old. I can't keep it up.” I wonder if those last two sentences are related to each other or mutually exclusive.
Brian asked John how old he was now and when John said forty-six, Brian scoffed. John then said, "I know; I just need to start boozing earlier in the day.” The mind boggles at that logic; if that's what you can call it.
Although I thought it would be hard to be disappointed with the “Worst House” breakfast, they manage to take poorly prepared bacon and eggs to a new level. I asked for my eggs to be runny and sunny side up. If they were runny, I'd hate to see what they call hard. Possibly eggs that had been cremated for a week. Brian and I asked for wholemeal toast. John didn't specify what sort of toast he wanted. I got brown toast, John got brown toast, but Brian was told they had run out of brown bread. Hello? How hard would have been to have switched John and Brian's toast? To think of that would have required the ability to have a simple thought, something I am not sure they are capable of doing in this place. Whilst on the subject of toast, they have an interesting way of doing it. One side is lightly toasted whilst the other side, well someone possibly thought about toasting it. That's close enough for them.
Needless to say, there was no point in ordering coffee because we knew that would guarantee further disappointment. Also, Brenda had promised she would have strong coffee waiting for us when we arrived.
Despite walking in with very low expectations, they excelled themselves and still managed to disappoint me completely. At the least the bacon was edible. The rest of it was left on my plate.
Let's face it, seeing the three of us at nine o'clock on Sunday morning is not the most pleasant thought many winemakers could have when waking up on the day of rest. Some winemakers have been known to exact their revenge as soon as we arrive by taking us through barrel samples that haven't even finished going through malolactic fermentation. With that thought in mind, one has to be careful who one makes one’s first appointment with on Sunday morning. I was looking for a kind soul without a mean bone in their body. Wayne Dutschke of Dutschke Wines was the obvious choice. Both he and his wife Brenda are incredibly hospitable, and it's a safe bet they won't have any nasty tricks up their sleeve at that unearthly hour on Sunday. When we were arranging the appointment, Brenda told me that she would have strong coffee waiting for us. That was something to look forward to, and the three of us were in need of a caffeine fix.
When we arrived, Wayne was there to greet us, but initially there was no sign of Brenda. I was hoping she was putting the coffee on. About twenty minutes later she wandered into the winery with the two children, and there was no coffee in sight. Bugger. They had managed to exact their revenge using both psychological and physical tactics. Caffeine withdrawal! Not fair. Threatening coffee and not delivering; double bastardry. On the other hand, having the person reviewing your wines on edge is not necessarily a smart move, and Wayne and Brenda are not dumb. Maybe this is an oversight after all. Meanwhile, even though I have no caffeine in my system, I will try not to be grouchy, irritable, or let the fact that I'm ready to climb the walls of the winery using my fingers as hooks for traction, interfere with my assessment of their wines.
Over the years, it has been very interesting to watch both this winery and the family behind it develop. The two are inextricably linked. The first time I met Wayne, he was a single guy. We met at the old Saltram winery where he had rented some space and was using the area to store his wine. He was making his wine at a number of different locations. From memory, the next time I tried to visit he was unavailable to see me as he was inconsiderate enough to be on his honeymoon.
When I finally caught up with him, I met his wife Brenda. She was the newest fixture. On the next visit, there were two more new fixtures that had become part of the network; their daughter Sami and a new purpose-built winery. On the visit after that, further expansion had taken place. Sami had a brother and the winery equipment had been increased. On this visit, more expansion had taken place. A new office building has been erected. And some pot plants have been purchased for “tank decorations.” It's not often you see stainless steel tanks decorated with pot plants.
It's wonderful to be able to watch the evolution of this operation, and meeting Brenda, and the two children on every visit and watching them grow, really makes one feel like they are almost part of the extended family. Such is the warm hospitality that the Dutschke’s exude. Selling wine to their customers is a very personal thing.
In 2008, thanks to some very simple, but smart mechanisation they managed to increase their production at this winery from 34 tonnes to 60 tonnes. They also crushed a further 135 tonnes off-site. Thirty tonnes of that was for the Moscato and for the first time, they have also picked up some fruit from outside their normal catchment area. In theory, their wines from 2008 should be good; Wayne had got all his fruit off by the fourth day of the heat wave, and the last grapes picked were Cabernet.
Wayne suggested before we try the current releases, we should try some barrel samples. The bastard! Both he and Brenda are extracting their early Sunday morning revenge after all. Barrel samples before coffee, how uncivilised can you get! That’s not cricket!
Watne was excited about the fruit he had received in 2008. Just looking at the colour of some of it was enough to understand why. Incredibly bright, dark and vibrant. The aromatics were sensational too. These barrel samples weren’t half bad, even first thing on a Sunday morning. Maybe he's not out to give me a hard time for getting him out of bed after all. (Brian: They were the most vibrant current-vintage barrel samples I’ve ever tried. The colour, aroma, flavours were all amazing. If Wayne gets all that into the bottle they will be sensational.)
We chatted about the difficulty in getting and maintaining a good presence in the all important US wine market. Wayne said, “The biggest problem is not the economy. It’s distribution! Distributors with two hundred and fifty wineries in their book are not uncommon. Let me give you an example of how difficult things can get over there. A winemaker mate of mine, from one of Australia's largest wineries went to the US. He was picked up from his motel room by a rep from the distribution company that handles his wines.
The rep said, "It was only yesterday I realised we had your product on our list.” Now if that can, and does happen to Australia's largest wineries, what chance does a small guy like me have? That happened in California where two large distributors have the lion's share of the business. And in this case, our wines were in one of those two distributors books.
That sort of problem is not restricted just a California. There was a large tasting of Australian wines in Chicago recently. One of the attendees was impressed with one of my mate’s wines and wanted to know where he could buy them. The winemaker had to say, "As of this morning I don't know.” That response sounds strange up until the time you realise the facts behind the statement. There used to be four major distributors in Chicago. One bought the other out, and the other two merged. So now their books are twice as thick.”
As difficult as the US might be for Australian wine makers now, I predict that in the short term it will only continue to get worse. And on that pleasant thought, it was time to try the wine.
Dutschke 2006 Willow Bend sells the $20 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The wine is a blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet. It has lovely aromatics, excellent complexity and shows talcum powder notes. This is the best wine under this label to date. The construction is lovely, as is the mouth feel. Plum, milk chocolate, mint/eucalyptus, liquorice and dried herb flavours have a soft and cuddly finish. A very bloody drinkable, fruit-driven wine that is just ample in weight, it is already harmonious; this wine will go gangbusters. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, drink over the next five plus years.
Dutschke 2006 GHR Four Vineyard Shiraz sells for $25 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is addictive but it is difficult to work out the individual scents; it shows delightful floral aromatics over clean fruit and menthol. The fruit is deep but seems almost lean but manages to deliver plum, loads of chocolate, eucalyptus, a hint of aniseed and menthol on a very dry finish. The super-smooth, fine tannins provide a supple mouth feel in this tight, almost seamless, medium-weight wine that is approachable now but should soften and take on weight over the next couple of years. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, drink from 2010 to 2014.
Dutschke 2006 Saint Jakobi Single Vineyard Shiraz sells for $35 and is sealed under screwcap. The aromatics are similar to the GHR wine but not as complex. Dusty tannins combine with pure, deeply-seated fruit to form an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency. It's sweet on the uptake with blueberry, rich chocolate, and mint. The long tannins provide excellent length and persistence to the very dry finish. It's approachable now but will be better with a couple of years in bottle. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating will improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2016.
Dutschke 2006 Sami Two Vineyards Cabernet sells for $30 and is sealed under screwcap. Only 300 dozen have been produced and this wine will sell out quickly. The bouquet shows lifted violets menthol and mint. An impeccably constructed and balanced wine, the silky tannins are tight and the fruit, pure and deeply-seated. It is varietally correct with violets, blackcurrant, minimal amounts of mint and menthol, tomato leaf, chocolate and dried herb flavours that finish clean, long and dry. It's ample-weight, firm, tight and harmonious. It's a baby now and will be better with a few years in the cellar. Happy to drink this any time, it's rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value and should be in its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2018.
The New Office Building
Dutschke 2006 Oscar Semmler Shiraz sells for $50 and is sealed under screwcap. Once again, this wine has lovely floral aromatics over black fruit characters and tar. At this point, it's locked up and all about structure. The tannins are fine and tight, the acid crisp, and the deeply-seated, pure fruit is buried below a solid layer of tannins. A muscular-weight wine with a supple consistency and a very well developed complexity; it's a credible wine that has a big future. Black cherry, spice, eucalyptus, chocolate and aniseed flavours are off-sweet. Rated as Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating is bound to improve significantly as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2014 and 2020.
Dutschke 2006 Single Barrel Shiraz sells for $75 and is sealed under screwcap. This is very different to the Oscar with not as much floral characters, but there is a load of chocolate and coffee oak. Abundant, dusty tannins combine with fresh acid to form a full-bodied, very-firm, solid, and tight wine. It's big and the palate is better than the bouquet suggests. Dark chocolate, coffee oak, black cherry and aniseed flavours finish very long, dry, clean and crisp. With its rock solid construction, it should be long lived. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, it should be in its peak drinking window between 2015 and 2024. There are all of four hundred bottles of this lovely wine.
Wayne has produced a terrific children's book called My Dad Has Purple Hands. It has been produced in conjunction with Paul Cassidy, who has done the artwork. It's a wonderful book for a young child which explains how wine is made. If you have any young kids and have an interest in wine, this is a must buy for them. Most kids get pretty sick and tired of their parents rabbiting on about wine, but this book will help explain to them, in a brilliant and easy to understand way, why wine is special. It sells for $25 direct from the winery.
This was a great visit. The line-up was right up there with the best I have seen from Wayne. They are still incredibly hospitable, even on Sunday when you get them out of bed at sparrows. After the tasting, we went and sat on the patio outside their house. We not only had coffee, but pumpkin scones and a platter of beautiful fresh fruit. I must admit, after partaking in the coffee I started to feel like a human being again, and by the time I left, I was thinking nice thoughts about Wayne and Brenda again, and had mentally withdrawn my curses against them.
Our next appointment was at the Rockford Winery and as they have scheduled appointments with Stonewallers all day, it messes things up if people are late. According to Wayne, he was not popular with Rockford’s at the moment. Yesterday there were a group at his winery that overstayed and were then late for their appointment at Rockford. He didn’t want to be blamed for two in a row!
We managed to leave Dutschke on time but on the way to Rockies, we got stuck behind a bloody great big, super mega ugly limo. As soon as we got to the overtaking lane, Brian floored it and it ate our dust - so to speak.
We got to Rockford’s a few minutes before they open at 11 and were waiting outside when guess what rolled up? The limo! It did a five point turn and whilst it was turning, the people in the back rolled down the windows and waved at us like they were royalty. Mutton dressed up as lamb. They only thing “royal” about them was the “pain the ass” they would be as the day wore on and they got even more plastered. I say “more plastered”: as the guy who got out first managed to get out without completely falling over. He was sucking on a can of amber fluid and seemed to be nine sheets into the wind. And it wasn’t even 11 am yet. The car was rockin’ with heavy metal music. These guys and gals didn’t look like they were out to taste fine wine. They looked like they were out to have a fun time and that involved getting as blotto as humanly possible.
Brian said, “I hope they have rubber matting on the floor otherwise cleaning up that limo when they get back to base will be as difficult as it will be ugly.” And smelly too. Yuk!
I have visited Rockford so many times before it’s hard to say anything new about the place, so I won’t pad the story and will basically just provide the tasting notes and a few brief comments.
Rockford 2005 Rod and Spur sells for $29.50 and is sealed under cork. It's a blend of Shiraz (55%) and Cabernet (45%). The bouquet showed Kirsch liqueured cherries with a menthol lift, and chocolate. The silky tannins combine with crisp acid and pure fruit to form a medium-weight, supple, solid wine with a well-developed complexity that sits pleasantly in the mouth. It's sweet on the uptake with cherry, savoury on the mid-palate and has some herbaceous characters on the finish, which is persistent and has good power for its weight. It's approachable now but will improve. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve in the short term and the wine can comfortably be consumed over the next 10 plus years.
Rockford 2005 Rifle Range Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $35 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet had a very distinctive, and unusual, "stinky” character. It didn't seem like a fault, but it wasn't particularly pleasant. The palate was better than the bouquet. It showed chocolate, cherry, and black cherry with a slight bitterness on the finish but it also tasted a bit like vomit. It's ample-weight with a supple consistency and a solid structure. Frankly I don't know how to rate this wine, but based on the sample, I would not be buying it. (More on this wine later.)
The newest member of the Pie Family, Nimh.
John doesn't like filling the dogs water bowl! He bought the giant economy size.
Rockford 2005 Basket Press Shiraz sells for $49 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet showed liqueur blackberry, liqueur cherry, milk chocolate and floral characters; it was very attractive. Not a good time to judge this wine as it appears to be in a hole at present. A pretty big mid-palate hole. The wine maintains a good mouth feel and shows ripe fruit on the uptake but it is well-balanced. Cherry, strawberry, milk chocolate, black liquorice, and dark chocolate flavours finish long. An ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, and a solid structure that should become seamless in time, it’s approachable now but would be better cellared. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2019. Given a bit of time it will fill out and will be fine.
Rockford 2001 Pressings sells for $80 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows blackberry, nose clearing menthol and sweet cherry; it certainly grabs ones attention. A muscular-weight wine with a supple consistency, solid structure and well-developed complexity, this is an interesting drop. The juicy-fruit is deep and strong but is currently dominated by the abundant, almost silky, dusty tannins. The wine fills the mouth completely with loads of coffee oak, cherry, chocolate, blackcurrant and mint flavours which finish incredibly long. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, the wine should be in its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2024. A big wine that will be long-lived; it worthy of cellar space, the problem is obtaining it.
Rockford 2001 VP sells the $62.50 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The spirit on this wine is lovely and complements the Kirsch like characters and spice. It's clean as a whistle with rich liqueur blackberry, chocolate, and coffee flavours that flow into an incredibly long liquorice finish. A muscular-weight, silky, seamless and harmonious wine, it’s lovely now but needs time to gain further complexity. Rated as Excellent with *** for value.
Early on in the proceedings, our host this was telling us how they didn't find many bottles suffering from cork problems at cellar door. That's funny; I didn't think like I looked like I came down in the last shower, or looked like I was 100%, completely stupid. But I guess I must be both of those things. Either that or the following events are a figment of my imagination. And it must be a pretty good imagination because Brian and John imagined the same thing happening.
The first bottle of Rifle Range Shiraz, which had been checked and served to us, was slightly corked. After comparing it to another bottle, our hostess agreed that it was corked.
Exactly the same thing happened with the Pressings!
The Bed at the Barossa Motor Lodge - V Shaped Mattress ............
When our host opened up a new bottle of Vintage Port, there was an expression of doubt on her face as she sniffed the wine, and justifiably so as it was corked. The second bottle of Vintage Port that was opened was far worse.
Yet Rockford, from the top down, keeps thinking they don't have a problem with corked wine. From what I have seen at cellar door, this attitude is deluded thinking. As a percentage, over the years I think I have probably struck more corked wines at Rockford cellar door than anywhere else. The situation reminds me of corporations who trumpet a particular creed to the world, and how wonderful and virtuous they are in that regard. Frequently, theses corporations’ actual behaviour is the complete antithesis of their claims. Australian banks advertising that they provide great customer service is a perfect example.
Rockford keep telling their customers that corks are not a problem; they are now at the point where the staff believe their own publicity.
I fully understand Rockford's motivation for wanting to continue with corks. A number of wineries have decided to stick with cork for good reasons. However, if Rockford is going to stick with corks they need to do a couple of things. Firstly try and obtain better quality corks that have a lower incidence of cork taint, and secondly, admit that corks can be a problem and stop trying to fool people into believing otherwise. For example, the new technology corks that are available and are being used by Hardy’s for their Sparkling Reds, from what I have seen so far, have a much lower incidence of cork taint than traditional corks.
After the tasting, I was concerned about the Cabernet we had tried. It didn’t seem to have a detectable fault but it was not up to this wineries normal standard, so I wanted to investigate a little further. On the way out of the Stonewall tasting room, I dropped into the normal cellar door so I could try a sample from a different bottle. By coincidence, the lady who served me had been in the Stonewall room as were leaving and had probably overheard our conversation about the wine. She would have known why I had popped into the cellar door and she made sure she served me herself. As I tried the second sample of Rifle Range Cabernet we discussed my concern about the wine. The second bottle was the same as the first. According to her, the wine had only recently started exhibiting the characters I was describing, and she felt it was just a stage the wine was going through. I can only judge what I find in the glass and whilst I have no reason to disbelieve what I was told, I would not risk buying any until I had tried it again and was convinced that it was in fact, just a stage.
According to the information I had, Glen Eldon, where we headed next, should be open. When we got there, it was closed. No explanation; just closed. At least in the Barossa you haven’t driven miles out of the way and wasted a heap of time, so it’s not a big deal.
We decided to head up towards Angaston with the possibility of having lunch at Salters (restaurant at the Saltram Winery) as they do a mean pizza and great coffee. For some strange reason we went via the shopping strip in Angaston and whilst we were there, we decided to check out the place that our mate in the Ice Creamery had recommended the day before.
Nestled away at 36A Murray Street is the Eden Valley Regional Wine Centre. It’s an unpretentious, bright, modern store that has an excellent and diverse range of wines, all from local artisan producers, and all available for tasting. This spot is a must stop if you are in the area. It offers a unique chance to try a huge range of wines that you won’t find anywhere else, let alone all in one place. Katrina Kroehn is very knowledgeable about the wines she is showing and selling. She is also very helpful and friendly. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. It’s just a shame there are not more places like this in other regions. This will be a guaranteed, mandatory stop on all future Barossa trips for me. There is a $5 tasting charge but it is refundable against purchase. Tell Katrina TORB sent you and she will may waive the charge; or may charge you double! If you say you are friend of mine, you are guaranteed to be charged triple.
Even if you don’t buy any wines, it will be the best value five smackers you ever spent. Allow plenty of time to wade through the line up.
Some of the wines available are less 10% by the dozen.
Tim Adams is one of my favourite producers in the Clare Valley, so when I saw a new Sparkling Red made by Sorby Adams, and was told that it was a collaboration of Tim and his brother Simon, I had to try the wine.
Sorby Adams Morticia NV sells for $20 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is dominated by sweet, perfumed raspberry fruit. With no noticeable oak, this pure, fruit driven sparkling red has a hit of sweet red fruits and milk chocolate, as well as some savoury characters. A great party wine, it finishes clean and dry. It’s medium-weight and fairly simple but very easy-drinking; rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Sorby Adams is named after the winemaker, Simon David Sorby Adams. Simon’s has spent almost thirty years making wine and has held some interesting positions including being the Chief Winemaker at Yalumba and Dorrien Estate at Cellarmasters. He is no Johnny come lately, even if he is a Sorby come lately, having established his brand in 2004. (The rest of the wines are made exclusively by Sorby.)
Sorby Adams 2004 The Family Shiraz sells for $32. The bottle had just been opened and showed some initial bottle stink that started to blow off quickly. Plum, pepper, and attractive perfumed notes are showing, and as the wine opened dusty characters started to emerge. Very smooth, unobtrusive tannins and fresh, lively acid combine with the pure fruit to form a medium-weight, supple wine, that is tight and shows some elegance. It's easy-drinking, refined, and a good food wine. Cherry, olives, and chocolate flavours finish clean, incredibly fresh and with good persistence. A well-made wine with some finesse, it is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value and can happily be drunk over the next 10 plus years. I can't say it's my preferred style.
Sorby Adams 2004 The Thing sells for $50 and is sealed under cork. The grapes for this wine come from a 74 year old vineyard and have been cropped at one tonne to the acre. This is a good Thing. The noticeable VA blew off quickly to reveal blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Abundant, dusty, very firm tannins perfectly frame the pristine fruit and crisp, lively acid. The fruit has enough power to punch through the tannins and delivers cherry, milk chocolate, blackberry, coffee, vanilla and eucalyptus flavours that finish very long, and with excellent persistence. A medium-weight drop that should soften with time, it has a supple mouth feel and a well developed complexity. It’s approachable now but a criminal waste and would be better cellared. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, it should be in its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2024.
With wines named Morticia, The Family, and The Thing, I guess we can look forward some more wines in this theme.
The Uncle Fester will be an in your face Shiraz that is short on the back palate, but hangs around for ages. It's likely to have an unusual aroma, hint of geriatric hospital, and it will completely lack charm.
The Gomez Cabernet Sauvignon will be an attempt at class and a clear imitation of a French Bordeaux. The packaging will be impeccable; however it will lack the sophistication and grace of the real McCoy. It's also bound to be poor value for money.
The Lurch Riesling will be sinuous, willowy, but have great length. It will also be very deep. A mysterious wine, it will hold back more than it gives away.
Finally, there is bound to be a Pugsley; it will be a rather blousy, youthful, dessert wine of no great character, and will be petulant and obnoxious.
Eden Hall 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $32 and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is attractive and shows blackberry, leafy notes and smoky oak; it's varietally correct. The pure, persistent, strong fruit is sweet on the uptake with blackberry and then goes into off-sweet characters with dried herbs, liquorice and a fresh acid finish. There is a touch of bitterness on the back palate and some sappiness on the mid-palate. It's a muscular-weight with a supple consistency and a well developed complexity. A true reflection of varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value and should be in its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2018 which will give the abundant dusty tannins time to integrate.
Poonawatta Estate Monties Block 2006 Eden Valley Shiraz sells at $30 and is sealed under screwcap. The grapes for this wine are sourced from a vineyard that was planted in 1880. The lifted bouquet shows pepper, minerals, and earthy notes. The ripe fruit is sweet on the uptake with pepper, plum and rich chocolate that lingers nicely, but it is a bit short on the back palate. It's tight but given time, it may fill out. A medium-weight wine with a supple consistency, the complexity is intricate and it shows some elegance. This is a good expression of cooler climate Shiraz, is food friendly, and would be perfect accompaniment to pasta with a meat sauce. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, drink from 2011.
Poonawatta Estate 2006 The Cuttings Shiraz sells the $49 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet showed black pepper with noticeable oak influence; vanilla and coffee etc. A medium-weight wine with a supple consistency, it's ultra-tight and elegant. The pure, deeply-seated fruit delivers sour cherry, pepper, blackberry and liquorice flavours that are off sweet. The tannins are unobtrusive and the wine finishes with crisp and fresh acid. It needs time, and would be good with oily food. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2020. It should be long-lived.
Radford Dale 2005 Eden Valley Shiraz sells for $40 and is sealed under cork. Cropped at one a half tonnes to the acre, the wine is made by Ben Radford, the Rockford winemaker. The bouquet shows Kirsch characters, milk chocolate and "roasted beetroot." Silky, tight tannins combine with fresh acid to back this medium-weight, supple wine that is solid, elegant and harmonious. The palate shows sweet and sour cherry with milk chocolate, spice and dark chocolate. It's a good food wine and whilst it's approachable now it will improve. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2017. (Brian: It is available elsewhere at retail for $30, a very good buy at that price.)
The good thing about trying all these Eden Valley here (under one roof) is that it provides a real sense of what the Eden Valley can produce. Most of the wines were more elegant than those from the Barossa, but that is to be expected. We only scratched the surface of the wines available, and a number of my favourite Eden Valley brands, that send me samples, were also represented here.
Lunch! Please don’t mention the war. We were having such a good time at the Taste of Eden Valley that we didn’t want to waste unnecessary time so we decided to have a quick lunch and come back and finish off the tasting. (For the sake of readability, I have included all the wines together above and have put the lunch segment in at the end of the tasting.) This was where Katrina went down in my estimation. She recommended a number of local places that sold and specialized in ******* pies. Not happy Jan! It’s hard enough to argue with John and Brian about this topic, but when a local adds there support, I have no chance. Boo hiss. Still how bad can it be? My palate has been the victim of all sorts of pie assaults (and battery) and I have somehow managed to survive them. Just! There was much debate between the three involved parties about where to obtain the best pies. The way they were banging on about it, one could be forgiven for thinking they were discussing something of vital importance. Not just censored pies.
After much discussion, the boys and Katrina decided that we should go to a bakery up the road. When we walked in, I thought you beauty, they have a sandwich bar. And then I looked at the contents. Oh dear. Oh dear me. There were the makings of some salad, such as shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, grated cheese etc but the only meat available was chicken. And it didn't look particularly inviting. So my choice was an uninviting chicken sandwich of some description, or the most boring salad sandwich imaginable, or a censored censored pie. I chose a hot chicken and Mayo roll. The boys ordered some censored censored censored pies. Brian said his pepper steak pie was yummy. John ordered one chicken and one meat pie. Now that was a surprise. Not! The less said about my lunch the better. Let's just say I'm already looking forward to dinner.
The final appointment of the day was at Yalumba. I have already written a couple of features on this winery. It is Australia’s oldest and and the fourth largest family owned winery, but when you mention size, Robert Hill-Smith doesn't like it. Robert's attitude to size is that not being the biggest is good thing; they aim to be cerebral and interesting, not large. It’s no accident they have not only survived, but have grown and prospered. They know what they are doing and they do it in a professional manner. Like all large companies, return on investment is important, but when you talk to the people here you get the impression that they think about profit in the long term, not in terms of this quarters results. They also care deeply about the wine industry and are completely committed to it, unlike some other corporations that could be selling water heaters instead of wine, and doing it next month, if the return dictates that’s the market they should be in.
There is another key indicator of how well the organisation is fairing. Staff retention. Many of the staff have been here so long, they need to be dusted once in a while. Talk to any staff member that has been around Yalumba for some time, and there are lots of them, and they will talk about the place as if they were part owners instead of employees. This is one large, happy family, as well as being a family owned company. That commitment to the staff by management, and the commitment by all involved to the industry, provides a “special factor” – The Yalumba Factor. It helps make their wines that little bit special.
Being a Sunday, if at all possible, the brass that run the joint at Yalumba like their staff to have the day off. I can understand that, and it's a good philosophy coming from management. Therefore there were no winemakers available to host our visit, but Kevin Glastonbury had selected a line up of wines for us to try. Gareth Kavanagh was the man on duty at cellar door that drew the short straw, and was given the job of looking after us. We were warmly greeted by Gareth, a short, Pommy bastard (tautology), but he turned out to be a regular human being with a terrific, dry sense of humour. And like all good Pommy bastards, he could give as much ribbing as he took, so there were lots of laughs interspersed amongst the serious components of the tasting.
Gareth was a microbiologist by profession. He told us the story of how he wound up in the wine business. He would be sitting on his stool in the laboratory and peering down the microscope quizzically at some microbes. Think…. think… think. Ah, he would say to himself, you have been naughty little microbes; we will have to do something nasty with you. He would look at some other microbes and think, hummmm….. you have been good little microbes, we will culture you. After having done this for some time, he thought there must be more to life than rewarding and punishing microbes. So he decided to get into the wine business. Now he gets to punish people like us with his bad jokes instead.
Yalumba recently released a premium Pewsey Vale Riesling called Prima. The wine has a Vino-Lok glass seal. This is their first wine under a Vino-Lok and they are trialling it as a possible alternative to screwcaps. The specs on this wine are quite interesting. The wine has been made from the first pick grapes. It has an acid level of 7.9 and 22 g of residual sugar. According to one source, it is the first Riesling that has been made with the essential balance between crispness, acidity, and sweetness. Apparently the wine moved out the door in less time than it would take the Pie King to scoffed down a couple of Mrs Vilis cholesterol specials. The next release will be in September. Whilst the boys tried this wine, I started getting stuck into the reds.
The Yalumba Hand Picked Series was the brainchild and baby of Robert Hill-Smith. From its inception these wines were good, and as every year went on, with vintage variation excepted, they basically got better. Whenever I visited the winery, I always looked forward to trying them. They are now taking the Hand Picked Series one step further. They are now not only hand picked, they will now come from individual vineyards and are now referred to as Single Site wines. The focus will now be on micro production wines, from individual sites. The sort of thing that boutique winemakers do so well. That's interesting. Here we have a large organisation attempting to emulate the artisan producers. It's certainly a novel approach.
In the case of the old Tri-centenary Grenache Label, the grapes for this wine were sourced from two different blocks on the same site. The output from those two vineyards has now been separated and two different wines have been produced. The objective is to produce a unique and individual expression from each block.
This series of wines (unless otherwise stated) were all hand picked and then crushed in eight tonne open-top stainless steel fermenters. The indigenous yeasts were allowed to self inoculate and start the fermentation and than some cultured yeasts were added. The wines were matured for eighteen months in old hogsheads.
Yalumba 2005 Habermans Vineyard Grenache has a recommended price of $55 and is sealed under cork. The wine was released in June. The vines used to source the grapes for this wine are between ninety and a hundred and twenty years old. The bouquet is black, chocolaty, spicy and earthy, and whilst it's unusual, it's good stuff. A seriously structured and balanced wine, it's a medium-weight incredibly tight and shows some elegance. The pure, deeply-seated fruit delivers sweet red cherry, spice and pepper that leads to a clean, fresh, lively finish of milk chocolate and earthy characters. The persistence is excellent. A high quality wine that is okay now, but it will be better with a couple of years more bottle age. It is food friendly and Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, it should enter its peak drinking window around 2010.
Yalumba 2005 Nursery Block Grenache has a recommended price of $55 and is sealed under cork. The vines that grow the grapes for this wine are approximately one hundred and fifty years old. The bouquet shows loads of mushroom and earthy characters together with pepper. An excellent structure has been achieved with the use of unobtrusive, ultra--fine tannins, lively acid and pure, deeply-seated fruit. Cherry, red fruits, black fruit, and truffles lead to a slightly sappy mid-palate which flows into dark chocolate and a spicy finish. There is no sweetness, and it finishes with good persistence. A medium-weight wine that has an intricate level of complexity, it's a slight step up over the Habermans. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating may improve as the wine matures and it can be happily drunk any time over the next seven plus years.
Yalumba 2005 Swingbridge Vineyard Craneford Eden Valley Shiraz (what a mouthful) has a recommended price of $65 and is sealed under cork. This old Shiraz block, affectionately known as the “old shag’n’duck” block, is of unknown clones planted in 1920 on its own roots. The bouquet shows varnish oak/oxidative handling characters with loads of spicy fruit. Fine, dusty tannins combine with distinct, deep fruit to form an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, and an interesting level of complexity. It's sweet on the uptake with cherry ripe and spice; there is some savoury plum and sappiness on the mid-palate and that leads to a chocolate finish. It's a lovely flavour profile and finishes reasonably long. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, drink from 2010 to 2015.
Yalumba 2005 Hahn Farm Vineyard Light Pass Barossa Shiraz has a recommended price of $65 and is sealed under cork. By Yalumba standards, these are young vines. They were planted in the 1970s. This wine was matured in new French oak. The bouquet shows sweet cherry ripe, vanillin oak, spicy notes, mocha and earthy characters. The pure fruit is sweet and delivers plum, chocolate, loads of coffee, mocha and liquorice flavours. It's ample-weight with a firm consistency, solid structure and an agreeable level of complexity. The tannins are unobtrusive and the acid is fresh. It's a good wine but the Eden Valley version is better. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, drink over the next seven years.
Whilst I was trying Shiraz, although it could be considered being out of order, I decided to try the 2004 Octavius next. It was okay, but certainly was not as good as previous vintages, or what I would have expected. There was absolutely no sign of any fault with this bottle. Not the faintest hint of cork taint or oxidisation, so I didn't ask another bottle. But it was disappointing.
Yalumba 2006 The Scribbler retails for between $17 and $20 and is sealed under cork. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Shiraz. It's a blend of Barossa and Eden Valley fruit and was matured in multiple different types of oak. Gareth described it as a wood medley. This is the real deal. Made in an old-fashioned manner, it shows what Australia does so well, blending Shiraz and Cabernet. With chocolate on the uptake, the mid-palate is both sweet and juicy leading to dominant mint with coffee on the tail. The wine is backed by loads of dusty, drying tannins. It's muscular-weight, firm, solid and a bloody good drink for the price. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, drink from 2012 to 2018.
Yalumba 2004 The Signature has a recommended price of $45 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is sexy with perfumed blue fruits, vanilla, earthy characters, and on every sniff, you pick up something different; there’s more activity here than Bondi Beach on a hot summer's day. Loads of chewy, dusty, drying tannins combine with pure, strong fruit to form a full-bodied wine with a supple consistency; it has been harmoniously balanced. A serious wine, the glorious fruit delivers chocolate, blackberry, mocha, cherry, mint and dried oregano flavours that finish very long and with great persistence. The fruit is currently buried by the tannins but the wine, which is a top shelf drop, has a big future. The rating of Highly Recommended with **** for value has a mile of potential to improve, and will do so, as it enters its peak drinking window between 2014 and 2024+. John's comment, "Great fruit weight in the mouth."
Yalumba 2002 The Reserve sells for $105 and is sealed under cork. This wine is made from a combination of the best barrels of Shiraz and the best barrels of Cabernet available. The bouquet exhibits dominant Cabernet characters with leafy, dusty notes, plentiful jubes, mint and menthol. A superior wine in every respect, it has been fantastically constructed. Fine, dusty tannins perfectly frame the strong, deep fruit in this full-bodied wine that has a supple consistency, and a tight structure. Cassis flavour drives the jube-jube fruit together with coffee, chocolate and plum flavours that finish into next week. A posh wine it will become seamless in time. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2016 and 2032. Brian made two comments. The first was “yum”. The second was, "this will be a table lifter." He is right on both counts.
Yalumba 2005 The Menzies has a recommended price of $45 and is sealed under cork. I have never been a fan of this label. That is until now. They have finally managed to produce a wine that is well balanced, not stalky and has not been battered to death by tannin. The abundant, drying tannins are well matched to the pure, deeply-seated fruit. Blackcurrant, blackberry, cassis, and tomato leaf characters, menthol and mint, are found on the palate. It's a full-bodied, firm and solid wine with a well-developed complexity that is worthy of cellar space. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating will improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2013 and 2025. This is a radical change in style; and it worked. It is a single vineyard wine.
The improvements to The Menzies have not come about by accident. Yalumba have now moved to "precision viticulture." They fly over the vineyard with an infrared sensor. That enables them to isolate the blocks with the highest biomass. The next step is to get down on the floor and use a refractometer to measure the sugar levels. From those readings, they are able to determine which rows will be picked. This process gives them not only the right sugar ripeness, but the best phenolic ripeness in the skins. According to Gareth, this process has enabled them to produce a wine that lets them go around the world and say, "this is what Coonawarra Cabernet tastes like." That's a far cry from previous vintages.
After the poor showing of the first bottle of the Octavius, Gareth decided to open another bottle because upon thinking about it, he wasn't happy with it either. I'm glad he did. The second bottle was far better.
Yalumba 2004 The Octavius sells the $95 and is sealed under cork. The nose is black, rich and shows chocolate. This is a sensational wine. Silky tannins combine with deep and strong fruit of the purest order to form a full-bodied wine with a supple consistency, a solid, tight structure and surprisingly, it's already seamless. The palate is black; with pure blackberry, rich dark chocolate, mint/eucalyptus and mocha flavours. It's approachable now but will need time to develop its real character. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, it should be in its peak drinking window between 2014 and 2024+. This is the best Octavius to date.
After that fabulous tasting, the topic of conversation turned to one of my favourite subjects, Sparkling Shiraz. As luck would have it, Gareth was able to get his thieving little paws on a bottle of very special wine that won’t see the light of day for some time.
Yalumba 2002 Black D is a blend of 55% Shiraz and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. Release is still a fair way off. The wine had been purloined straight out of the catering fridge so it was ice-cold; way colder than normal. In terms of style, it's lighter than the 98 and shows more cabernet dominant characters than the 99. It's very different to your average sparkling Shiraz. Very noticeable cabernet characters on the palate; leafy notes and herbal characters combine with blackcurrant and rich chocolate in a profile that is both sweet and savoury. It finishes dry. It's destined to spend another six months in bottle and will certainly be worth waiting for! It will be a cellar door only wine, and is rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, based on a price in the low $30s.
The move to change the Hand Picked Series to Single Site wines is a good one. In the immortal words of Sir Humphrey Appleby (Yes Minister) “that's a brave move” but in reality, it's not brave, it is smart thinking. Here we have one of the top ten wine producers in Australia, moving slowly and taking the next logical progression and emulating what the boutique wineries do best; small parcels of individual vineyard wines. A number of wineries have been extremely successful using this philosophy and there is no reason why Yalumba can't be one of them, even if they are much bigger. My only concern with these wines is the price. They may be competing against the boutiques and quantities available may be small, but some of this series are pushing the pricing boundaries. As much as they would like to be seen as "not large" - they are not a boutique by any stretch of the imagination, and wines at these prices with a Yalumba label will have to be "hand sold."
Yalumba is not a company that rests on its laurels or lets grass grow under its feet. They are not averse to change but generally do it by evolution. The Octavius is a classic example. They even use French oak in the mix now; a move that many would have thought was heresy, but a move that turned out to be an excellent improvement. Likewise, they have finally got the message on the Menzies. The changes to viticultural practices have worked wonders. The changes have not stopped there. They have backed off on the oak influence across the midrange and top end wines, and they are better for it. The tannins are tending to be softer, which makes the wines more approachable in their youth. That doesn't make them wimpy; they still have solid backing which means they will cellar well and improve.
The company has an interesting and diverse range of wines to satisfy everybody at all price points. The entry-level wines will go up against anybody's in the value for money stakes. The quality of their mid range wines is unquestionable and these wines generally offer good value. The wines that sell for over $50, whilst not cheap, are generally not overpriced in comparison to their competition, although the price rises over recent years mean they are pushing the price envelope.
The chances are, if it's got a Yalumba label, it will be drinkable, enjoyable and well-made.
As a special treat, just before we left, Gareth gave us a sample of a final wine to try. According to Gareth, the Yalumba Museum Muscat is their equivalent of the Rutherglen Rare. It sells for $23 for a 375 ml bottle. Yalumba is ripping off the public again! When I dictated that comment, it brought howls of laughter from the peanut gallery. The wine exhibits good rancio type characteristics, coffee and toffee notes. It's fairly syrupy and rich on the palate and the acid is reasonably refreshing. A muscular-weight, intense wine backed deeply-seated fruit, it finishes clean and reasonably fresh. Flavours of rose petal, coffee and caramel as well some rancio characteristics complete the package. The wine is harmonious and enjoyable but it is not a patch on the Rutherglen Rare Muscats, but then it only costs a fraction of the price. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, it's still worth buying. When you have a look at the individual components that go together to make up this wine, they don't look all that impressive. However when they come together, you have a situation where the sum of the whole is greater than the individual components. In that regard this wine is deceptive, in a positive way.
In Chapter Three, I mentioned that a bottle of Charles Cimicky 1998 Reserve Shiraz that we had opened for dinner on the Saturday night was badly corked. In the past, this winery has not been the easiest to deal with when it comes to getting corked wine replaced. In fact, the attitude going back some years was recalcitrant. As a result, I wondered what sort of reaction I was going to get when I sent them an e-mail stating the wine was corked.
I sent the e-mail and five days later received a very pleasant response from Jennie Cimicky stating they would replace the wine. As a matter of interest, in part, her e-mail said, "However, despite the occasional unreliability of corks which are, after all, a natural material and subject to minor inconsistency, we have elected to stay with this closure method for the next 18 months after which we will review the situation.” No comment needed!
Four weeks later (29 June) the wine had not arrived, so I sent them another email asking if it had been sent. No response by email, but when I got to the shop on Friday (11 July), there was a box of four bottles of wine from Charles Cimicky that arrived the day previously. That was very generous of them, but totally unnecessary. In all honesty, I don't know whether it was to shut me up, or to make amends for taking so long to follow through on a replacement, or just some extra bottles as tasting samples for review. (Brian: Especially as they never seem to be open when we try to visit.)
As each of the four wines was different, I decided to review them and include them in the Tour Diary here.
Charles Cimicky 2006 Trumps Shiraz sells for between $17 and $19 and is sealed under cork. The nose is strong with lots of fruit; it's intensely dusty with plum and liquorice and screams Barossa Shiraz. This is a big wine for the price and the deep, strong fruit is well-backed by dusty tannins. Muscular-weight with a supple consistency, solid structure and agreeable complexity, it's okay now but will be better with a couple of years more bottle age. Liquorice, dried oregano, plum, dark chocolate, and charred oak flavours have a huge amount of flavour intensity. Rated as Recommended with **** for value you would be hard pushed to do better at the price. It should be in its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2015.
Charles Cimicky 2004 The Reserve Shiraz is sealed under cork and sells for around $45. From what I can gather, it is the previous vintage. It was interesting to watch the development of the bouquet over a few hours. It was completely different once it has a chance to open up. It's a well-balanced wine that is in harmony. This wine is about the fruit; it's pure, strong and deep. On the palate it is fleshy with pure plum, spicy oak, black pepper, liquorice, tight, and black chocolate flavours that all finish on very long fine tannins, and with terrific intensity. It's muscular-weight with a supple consistency, and a tight, solid structure. The wine is approachable now, and although the charry oak is noticeable there is enough fruit to absorb it. Rated as Excellent with **** for value, the wine should be in its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2016.
Charles Cimicky 2005 The Reserve Shiraz is sealed under cork and sells for approximately $45. The bouquet shows loads of plummy fruit, vanilla, blackberry and liquorice. Unlike its predecessor, this wine is all about structure. It's tighter than the 2004 and almost seems austere by comparison. The flavour profile is similar with plum, nutmeg, pepper, tar, aniseed, mint and dark chocolate flavours that finish with good persistence. It's an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency and is locked tight. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2018+.
Charles Cimicky 2005 The Autograph Shiraz sells for approximately $37 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows abundant dusty oak dominating plum and aniseed. There is also a strange hint of baby poo. The very fine tannins combine with fresh acid and pure fruit to form an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency and a tight, solid structure. It shows some refinement, or to put it another way, not a huge amount of fruit generosity, and is rated as Recommended with *** for value, but the rating should increase when it enters its peak drinking window between 2010 and 2015.
Charles Cimicky's wines are generally good. They always have been that way. But they are a funny mob. Charles Cimicky seems to shun publicity. Years ago I made an appointment to see him, but wound up seeing his wife Jennie instead. They don't seem interested in doing much marketing. Most people in the industry regard sending wine to James Halliday for review as mandatory, but Cimicky doesn't bother. Also, from what I can see they don't have a website. Low key! Any lower and it would be under the doormat. But as I said at the start of this paragraph they do make some darn good wine.
Unusually, that is the end of this Chapter of the Tour Diary. There are no notes about the dinner and associated wines, not because we didn’t have dinner, but sometimes it’s not appropriate the sit there taking notes or speaking into a recorder. Such was the dinner this night. I will say one thing, the food was terrific and I drank far more than normal.
The next Chapter will see us move to Coonawarra and it will be out next week, so stay tuned.
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