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Australia

Tasting Place with Mac Forbes

Mike Bennie, Mac Forbes, Woori Yallock Vineyard, Yarra Valley, Australia

Mike Bennie and Mac Forbes, in the Woori Yallock Vineyard, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, February 2013

It’s February the first time Mac Forbes and I meet. Wine writer Mike Bennie has generously included me on a trip around Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, and we’re spending the second half of a day with Forbes, and his vineyard partner, Dylan Grigg.

We focus the visit on a favorite site of Grigg and Forbes in the Woori Yallock area walking a South facing slope to see the changes of Pinot at various parts of the hill. They’ve worked with the site for several years now. Forbes tells me when they started, the deep siltstone soils created grapes so tannic the fruit couldn’t stand up to the structure. The vines now reach around twenty years old and their expression has seemed to find itself — the fruit-tannin balance gives more easily. Later, we taste several vintages of the wine. It carries a lithe tension and energy that renews my previously challenged faith in Pinot Noir.

Departing from Australia, Forbes’ wines keep returning to mind so I decide to contact him. After several re-tastings, and emails back and forth, we’re able finally to talk in early November on, what I find out later, is Forbes birthday. He’s just returning from a visit to Austria, where he spent several years as a winemaking and vineyard consultant. The trip allowed him time with long-term friends.

When I ask Forbes how his Australian winter has been, he surprises me. “Since I’ve seen you I feel like I’ve grown enormously in a humbling way,” he responds. Forbes’ wines are already well-regarded among his winemaking peers, and his experience with heritage wineries in Australia, Dirk Niepoort in Portugal, and consulting in Austria, are impressive, not to mention harvest work through France and elsewhere. I ask Forbes to explain. Eventually, his answer humbles me.

The Vineyard as an Educative Force
Mac Forbes

Mac Forbes, February 2013

Forbes begins speaking about his vineyard sites, all (small) sections of land with unique soil conditions throughout the Yarra Valley. He describes a previously abandoned collection of vines in the Wesburn region that was almost pulled until the current owner asked if Forbes and Grigg wanted to try and restore it. The project demanded several years of wrestling blackberry bushes, and tackling trees before it gave any grapes, that first fruit mainly various whites. More recently they were also able to make Pinot.

I ask Forbes what about his vineyards challenged his way of thinking. “Wesburn definitely precipitated this school of thought evolving,” he tells me. “The big thing that dawned on me in the last twelve months,” he starts, then pauses, and starts again. “So much of what I was doing has been to be outcome focused, yet I was committed to making wines of place.”

Winemakers around the world recite these days how they make wines focused on site expression. Many such examples, however, are winemakers with little contact with the site itself, simply buying fruit at the end of the season. Considering what little interaction with a location such a model affords, how they could be making terroir driven wines remains unclear. Recognizing something more in Forbes’ claim, I push him to explain. Instead of naming site features, he describes the vineyard itself as an educative force.

Looking at his example, Forbes makes wine from the Wesburn site (among others), but perhaps more importantly, he works with other winemakers that also purchase fruit from he and Grigg. The community that’s arisen from the experience has changed him.

“Wesburn fruit has a unique structure totally at odds with other sites we’ve got,” he explains. “It’s quite humbling to watch. People put on a hat ready to taste Pinot, then something else happens.” The collection of winemakers that work with Wesburn fruit come from varied schools of thought. One is more inclined towards conventional uses of apparent oak, and sulfur regimes. Another tends to push on reducing (or eliminating) sulfur additions while increasing skin contact. Over a few years, however, winemaking from Wesburn fruit put in sharp relief for all of them the impact of technique.

Listening for the Voice of a Site

In circling around our discussion, Forbes speaks about the difference between what he quickly calls a shy versus a dull site. He means the names more descriptively than critically. A dull site, as he understands it, might give quality fruit but will readily take up whatever winemaking technique you ascribe to it. The fruit itself is dull when compared to the winemaking, which shows up more in comparison.

“A shy site,” on the other hand, “might just need some space to shine.” A shy vineyard, then, could have sophisticated character but need the room to show what it has without being suffocated. Such a subtle distinction emphasizes the need for a winemaker to listen.

In offering the example, what Forbes wants to discuss is how the contrast changes the attention from outcome to place. When a winemaker’s focus is on listening, he or she has turned away from an outcome question that could otherwise seem as basic as what kind of wine to make–Pinot, for example–instead to asking how he or she will make the wine. In working with vineyards in the Yarra Valley, “I used to be looking for Pinot sites. Now I’m looking for great sites. Variety has to factor in, but it is secondary,” he says.

Education from the vineyard turns the attention away from the goal of a particular wine style or type, to the process of how to approach it, driven by what the site itself needs or wants. “Making wine in relation to benchmark examples of wine,” like Burgundy for Pinot Noir, for example, Forbes explains, “can make lovely wine, but likely suffocates the fruit a little bit.” That is, with such an approach, your attention is focused on somewhere, or something else, rather than the grapes you have.

When dealing with a shy site, “you end up having to ask how to best capture the character of the vineyard and help it come to the surface,” he tells me. “With Wesburn, we were confronted with the edge of going too far in technique.” Part of what is remarkable about the example is that it brought winemaker’s with hugely different philosophies on winemaking much closer in understanding. “This site brought people together, beyond being dogmatic, to a more similar place in approach. We all found the site wanted less sulfur, and less skin contact both. It’s been fascinating to watch.”

Fascinated by Wesburn

Forbes 2012 Pinots

Tasting early release samples with Forbes

Fascinated, by Forbes point, I ask him to talk through details. The vines at Wesburn were originally planted in 1981. The site rides the edge of potential for the Yarra Valley, as one of the team’s most expensive to run, giving incredibly low vigor from compacted mudstone and clay. Five years ago, Forbes planted Blaufrankisch believing the variety would suit the characteristics of the area. It has still to produce fruit for wine. Everything moves slowly at Wesburn. There is, in other words, low incentive for growing in the location but Forbes sees something valuable and so persists.

Moving slowly “is part of the site. It doesn’t help to push it,” Forbes explains. Trying to rush the vines won’t actually grow the fruit faster. The Pinot Noir of Wesburn, even from established vines, also took time to come back from neglect he reminds me. “I believed it would get there. I didn’t realize it would take so long.” The site is unique in Yarra Valley, protected from hot North winds blowing down from the desert, and as far East as one can go in the Yarra. It receives long morning shade, and cool air, so it shows a very specific side of the Valley. It’s the specificity of the site that has Forbes engaged.

Forbes History with the Yarra Valley

Dedicated to winemaking, Forbes spent years working in wine internationally. In 2004, however, he spent a summer with Dirk Niepoort studying vineyard sites first in Portugal, then in Austria. As Forbes explains, Niepoort tends towards vineyards other winemakers overlook as too barren, or neglected for production. The wines Niepoort makes, however, are vibrantly expressive and elegant. The experience with Niepoort made Forbes reconsider the potential of his home region.

What Yarra Valley has in abundance is ready fruit assertion. By trusting the region will give fruit character, winemakers can turn away from concerns of ripeness to search instead for what will make that fruit interesting. For Forbes, the focus falls on texture, and site expression.

After his experience with Niepoort, then, Forbes returned to Yarra Valley with a thirst for studying sub-regionality, to explore the unique, and multiple voices of the Yarra Valley. “If I am going to stay in this caper, it’s got to be to get to know what is unique about our little patch of dirt,” he explains. “If you can’t find out what is unique about your dirt, then why are you doing it?” Forbes asks. It is in this question that the humility Forbes exudes becomes clear.

Mac Forbes winemaking project is not about fulfilling or showcasing his own goals in wine as much as it is based in trying to find (with his winemaking community too) a voice that is bigger than his own to contribute to. Forbes’ wines do renew my faith in Pinot Noir, but interestingly they shed light on the grape itself less than they do the character of the Yarra Valley, and what it means to make wines of place.

***
Thank you to Mac Forbes.

Thank you to Mike Bennie, Jay Latham, and Lisa McGovern.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

2

Tasting Australian dry Riesling

Riesling Characteristics

click on image to enlarge

Last week three of us got together and tasted through 24 wines focused on the theme of dry Australian Riesling. The goal of the tasting was to gather wines from all over the country, focusing centrally on dry examples. Bottles were selected based primarily on professional recommendation from wine educators specializing in the United States on Australian wine, and were provided by importers. Some wines were also selected based on prior tasting experience.

The quality through the tasting as a whole was impressive, with a high proportion of good wines. It was truly a pleasure. The top, stand out wines, Pikes 2011 “The Merle” and Pewsley Vale 2007 Museum Reserve, were excellent. Other stand out wines in the tasting are marked with an * asterisk. All wines are dry unless mentioned otherwise in the tasting notes below.

In designing these tastings, I prefer to have a particular theme that serves as the center line, while also including a few appropriate outliers as a way of bringing breadth to the tasting and offering perspective. In this case, we chose to include a few examples with a touch of sweetness, and one Riesling from New Zealand.

Wines were put in flights by region, and then arranged by alcohol level. The wines were initially tasted in succession over the course of several hours, then revisited in various arrangements over the two days following. Below are notes on Australian Riesling in general, and then on the particular wines by region.

Australian Riesling

Australian Riesling carries a unique style with a central focus of clean fruit flavors.

While German Riesling is commonly known for celebrating a petrol note, the characteristic is not necessary to the grape and arises primarily out of experience in the vineyard, such as high sun exposure of the grapes themselves, or water stress of the vines. Some skin contact en route to the winery also encourages the phenomenon. Historically the distance between vineyard and winery led to 12-48 hours from harvest to winery. Older pressing techniques served more to break up the fruit, rather than squeeze its juice out, leading to a more pulpy process than newer technologies. Historical necessity in some regions, then, encouraged a particular style to be recognized as the norm.

Australia’s Riesling culture, though, finding its roots in the 1800s, remains significantly younger than its old world counterpart. With the distance between them, Australia’s winemaking and viticulture were able to develop without direct influence of style. One of the effects includes a distinctive approach to harnessing the riches of the grape. Riesling culture in Australia, then, purposefully avoids inclusion of petrol notes, instead seeking a pure fruit expression. Less commonly, however, there are also individual producers that instead wish to utilize old world influence and instill petrol development in his or her wine.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Western Australia celebrates the advantages of a genuinely cool climate, and marine proximity for generating high acid whites. One of the effects on the fruit is longer hang time for a slow and steady development of flavor. The region is recognized for offering a touch more spice, with a focus on citrus fruit, floral notes, and a lot of mineral expression.

* Rocky Gully, Frankland River, Western Australia, 2012, 11%

Offering lots of evolution in the glass, the Rocky Gully gives an ultra clean, acidity focused wine. The aromatics here are light with delicate lemon-lime and touches of toast. Through the palate the citrus acidity carries forward into an ultra long finish. This is a wine all about acidity and linear focus.

Frankland Estate, Netley Road Vineyard, 2012, 11%

Giving aromatics of white peach and peach blossom curled through with white grapefruit, Frankland Estates Netley Road Vineyard rises over flavors of stone fruit and citrus then does a flip mid-palate into soft birch bark with a short finish. This is a clean focus wine with nice juiciness.

Frankland Estate, Isolation Ridge Vineyard, 2012, 11.4%

Frankland Estate‘s Isolation Ridge Vineyard generates a more floral focused wine with textural aromatics of narcissus flower and white peach. The juicy palate is delicate carrying birch bark through the mid-palate, then opening into white peach and cracked pepper for a short finish.

Leeuwin Estate, Art Series Riesling, Margaret River, 2012, 12%

With distinctive, sweaty fruit and flower aromatics the Leeuwin Estate showcases perfume. The plush floral aromatics roll into a perfumed palate of lemon and lime blossoms. This is a textural wine with good focus, while less crisp than the other Western Australian examples. The acidity here is juicy, continuing into a long finish perfumed all the way through.

* Plantagenet, Mount Barker, 2010, 12.5%

Plantagenet gives a creamier palate of lime and peach blossom by the ocean, giving textural aspects of fleshy fruit with saline crunch. There are layers of complexity here giving hints of dried fruit, on a moderately acidic presentation, with a nice balance of texture and zip.

TASMANIA

Tasmania also carries a genuinely cool climate with maritime influence, generating intensely juicy whites with closely focused flavors and lots of linearity. With so much structure, the wines evolve significantly with time and love to age in the bottle.

* Uberblanc, Glaetzer-Dixon Family Winemakers, Tasmania, 2012, 11.3%

Intensely juicy, with an ultra long finish, the Uberblanc emphasizes the gifts of Tasmania’s cool climate. The complexity of the nose includes toast with lots of perfume, including rose potpourri. The palate carries floral touches forward through long acidic lines of citrus blossom and touches of toast. Uberblanc has pulled off complexity with an ultra long mouth watering focused finish.

VICTORIA

Plantings of Riesling in Victoria are disperse. However, the state also features what may be the oldest vines in the country planted at the end of the 1800s, start of the 1900s at the Garden Gully Vineyard in the Grampions district of Great Western.

* Jamsheed, Garden Gully Vineyard, Great Western, 2012, 12.7%

A distinctive wine in the overall line up, the Jamsheed Riesling carries multiple stages of interest. Opening with a touch of sweetness, the flavors are rich and creamy, rolling into a cascade of juicy acidity and saline that wash and stimulate the palate, then carry forward into a moderate long finish of snap clean flavors. This wine is distinctly textural.

CLARE VALLEY

Clare Valley hosts a high concentration of quality Rieslings, known as one of the smallest overall production zones of the country, but one of the highest production areas of quality wine. The area is known to generate intensely flavored wines with great longevity. The region is also quite varied, however, and as a result creates varied presentations as well. The wines of Polish Hill, for example, are recognized as more austere and subtle in their presentation, while those of Watervale offer great concentration and tension.

Some Young Punks, Monsters, Monsters Attack!, 2013, 10.5%

Meant as a good value wine with interest and a focus on fun, Some Young Punks give an off dry presentation of Riesling with light alcohol, good acidity, and a nicely achieved balance with sweetness. The flavors come in as lime juice, lime zest and touches of cracked pepper that waters the palate.

* Pikes, Clare Valley, “Traditionale,” 2012, 12%

Giving a crisp, clean fruit focus, Pikes Traditionale stands as their gateway to Riesling wine. White peach, is followed by white grapefruit with faint almond flower and touches of cracked pepper. This is a well made wine, with good value. It’s a Riesling that’s all about the fruit, and its smooth, easy long finish.

* Jim Barry, The Lodge Hill, 2012, 12.8%

Giving the most earth focused, though also one of the most delicate wines of the tasting, Jim Barry‘s The Lodge Hill showcased slate with touches of saline showing both in clean aromatics and palate. There are delicate hints of lychee in the pretty while light aromatics, and the well made, fine boned palate.

* Petaluma, Hanlin Hill Vineyard, 2012, 13%

With clean aromatics, the Petaluma turns into rich flavor with a broader palate. There is a lot of complexity here with good breadth of flavor including saline with faint hints of cracked pepper, guava, and a citrus mélange tumbling through a long, full mouthwatering finish.

** Pikes, “The Merle,” Clare Valley, 2011, 12%

With a textural nose and palate, Pikes “The Merle” focuses on fruit from the Polish Hill section of the region, offering greater tension and complexity, plus tons of juiciness. The wine gives green almond fruit with peach pit from the aromatics through the nervy mid-palate, full of action and length. I am a fan of this wine–a prize fighter with no need to show off.

Kilakanoon, Mort’s Block, 2011, 12.5%

The Kilakanoon Mort’s Block offers a clean, well made wine that, while a bit non-descript, offers nice fruit, and just a hint of toast. What the wine lacks in sophistication it makes up for in reliability and value. This is worth drinking.

Kilakanoon, Mort’s Reserve, 2012, 12.5%

Kilakanoon‘s Mort’s Reserve keeps it’s clean focus with a subtle expression. White flowers hint at narcissus and almond blossom carried through with lime and white grapefruit. The wine is clean, well made, and focused on delicacy.

EDEN VALLEY

Also known for its high concentration of quality Rieslings, Eden Valley competes with Clare Valley for its aging potential. By contrast, however, the region tends to generate lighter bodied wines with more subtle aromatics that focus on floral notes and orchard fruit.

Henschke, Julius, 2012, 11.5%

Subtle aromatics with still distinct elements throughout, the Henschke Julius keeps its focus on blossom notes bringing in moments of peach pit, peach blossom, and white peach with Meyer lemon, lime blossom, and a mineral crunch. The flower notes verge on bath soap but the wine focuses in on a pretty and light expression overall of well integrated scents and flavors.

Mesh, 2012, 12%

A cascade of juiciness pushes through light and subtle flavors in the Mesh. Citrus melange, complete with citrus blossom, dance with hints of bread and touches of talc. The wine is well balanced, and subtle, while also a bit generic. This is worth drinking.

St Hallett, 2011, 11.5%

With a touch of floral bath soap aromatics, St Hallett pushes into lemon with saline accents, leading into an explosively flavorful, juicy mid-palate and short finish. The wine also carries hints of lily, and charcoal to accent the central rush of salty citrus.

Dandelion Vineyards, 2012, 12.5%

The Dandelion Vineyards needs time to settle down as it opens a little disjointed while fresh. There are intriguing characteristics of delicate blossom aromatics, and fresh greenery leading into narcissus and grapefruit blossom on the palate. Compared to other wines in the tasting, this one presents as a bit clumsy while not badly made. This is a wine more like a country girl, less elegant, more at home in the fields and barn.

Penfolds, Bin 51, 2012, 12.5%

Unfortunately, Penfolds offered the only unpleasant wines in the tasting. Though many consider Penfolds an easy go to for Australian Riesling, Bin 51 drank with a more commercial quality than any of the other wines. The toast and citrus combination here performed as a singular note with medium high acid and a short finish. With such a singular expression, it’s one of the few wines tasted that stood out for lacking depth.

* Pewsey Vale, 2013, 12.5%

The Pewsey Vale shows a beautifully made classic Eden Valley wine. With a super floral (touch of bath soap) aromatic, the palate spins around a long and lifting ultra clean expression showing saline accents, and hints of potpourri on a creamy mid-palate moving into toast and nut on the finish.

** Pewsey Vale, Museum Reserve, The Contours Riesling, 2007, 12.5%

Aged in bottle 5 years before release, Pewsey Vale‘s 2007 Museum Reserve is a memorably beautiful wine. The subtlety and floral expressions here read as a sort of alluring inanimate intimacy. Hazelnut skin with toasted almond and touches of toast carry over into a palate of toasted lemon, touches of potpourri, and a long saline finish. This is a beautifully balanced wine with the most memorable nose of the tasting.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

While both Eden Valley and Clare Valley fall within South Australia, they are considered distinctive zones in terms of style. The grape is planted elsewhere in the state as well at smaller concentration, as other grapes remain a larger focus.

Penfolds, Thomas Hyland, 2011, 11.5%

Unfortunately, Penfolds showed poorly in this tasting with its contrast to other wines highlighting the more commercial aspects of its flavor production. The Thomas Hyland drinks as though its meant to offer greater complexity than its Bin 51 counterpart, but the effect is of a wine trying to be something its not, generating a sort of faux petrol accent over toast, red apple, and muted fruit and flower.

Yalumba, Y Series, Barossa, 2012, 12.5%

Bringing fresh and dried floral notes with accents of spiced wood and bay leaf, the Yalumba Y Series also offers hints of apple, white peach, and peach blossom. This is a nicely made, and well balanced wine with a long clean, easy finish.

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand Riesling differs from its Southern Hemisphere cousins by featuring the petrol notes absent in Australia. The common style incorporates floral notes with a mix of spiced citrus, stone fruit, and petrol accents. While dry Riesling is common throughout Australia, most examples in New Zealand incorporate the acid-sweetness balance of an off dry approach.

Greywacke, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2011, 12%

A refreshing contrast to the previous wines, the Greywacke carries distinctive aromatics of light smoke, apple blossom, and juicy peach with a touch of candied sour apple and chalk. The palate performs in an off dry (slightly sweet) style that balances juicy acidity with touches of white pepper and a medium-long finish.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

 

4

Tasting Pikes Rieslings with Neil Pike

Chuck Hayward organized a small party vertical tasting of Pikes Clare Valley Rieslings with Neil Pike a few weeks ago. Around 10 of us got together to learn more about Pikes history, Riesling vintages from the region, and Neil Pikes own family history.

Understanding Clare Valley

Clare Valley produces some of the top Rieslings of Australia, showing nice aging potential, with distinctive aromatics from the variety compared to other locations around the world. Growing conditions are unique in the region, but Australian wine culture also carries its own view of appropriate style for the grape (partially due to how fruit does grow there). As Pike explained, petrol notes are seen as a fault in Australian Riesling as the country tends to look instead to pristine fruit expression as the ideal. In his view, canopy management plays into how the flavor and aroma profile arises, with too much sun exposure the skins toughen generating bitter phenolics.

One of the cooler zones of South Australia, Clare Valley offers a cool and wet winter, followed by a very dry spring. The combination gives vines a good dormant period followed by healthy growing conditions that allow for generally no need for humidity intervention (little to no mold or mildew). Clare Valley is one of the latest harvesting regions on the continent.

Pikes sits around 500 meters/1640 feet elevation, with 650 m/2132 f at its highest point. Clare Valley is a small region producing only 2% of the wine in Australia, but 15% of the country’s premium wine. The Valley’s Mediterranean climate carry cooling breezes of the Spencer Gulf, balancing the warmer day time temperatures with cooling breezes and a diurnal shift that keep acid levels up.

Pikes Riesling “Traditionale”

Pikes Traditionale

click on drawing to enlarge

Pikes Riesling “Traditionale” comes in as the labels annual, more accessible style wine. The fruit is sourced from two locations with 75-80% brought from their Polish Hill Vineyards on the Easter side of the Valley. There is always some Watervale fruit as well, as it lends a softer and more opulent presentation to the wine. The Polish Hill Vineyard, on the other hand, grows in blue slate giving a needle tension. When coupled with the Watervale, the pair dance with long juicy lines and a friendly lightness of flavor.

Pike explains that the region offers high acidity. The house focuses on picking to preserve that juiciness. He also recognizes, however, that the type of acidity impacts the mouth experience with tartaric acid, in his view, giving a softer overall feel when compared to higher malic acid numbers, which he views as sharper and harder to drink (this will be explored more directly in a post tomorrow looking specifically at acids found in wine). As such, Pikes likes to maintain high TA with a lower focus on MA.

Pikes Riesling Reserve “The Merle”

Pikes Merle Vertical

click on drawing to enlarge – (each vintage came in at 12%)

Only in the best years, Pikes also produces a reserve style Riesling that is meant to age and offer greater intensity in its youth. The wine is held back slightly longer by the winery too as a result. Named for Pike’s mother, “The Merle” offers a pure Polish Hill expression, the vineyard growing in blue slate with some iron stone spotted throughout generating a light ferris element mixed into all that tension. In Pike’s view, the Merle is their more challenging and austere Riesling, as it is meant to drink after some time in bottle and is more loved by Riesling devotees.

The Wines

Both flights offered lovely aging characteristics with the older vintages giving a nice combination of fruit-flower expression and secondary deepening. The middle years tended to be pretty while light in comparison to either the seering acidity of the new wines or the thickening plushness of the older. The line drive intensity of the Merle was impressive giving too a rich textural experience. It had a lot of energetic focus while being a wine to slow down with. The Traditionale, on the other hand, came in all about pep, verve, dance and lift with tons of energy certain it was meant to wake the palate up.

***
Thank you to Neil Pike.

Thank you to Chuck Hayward, Peter Bentley and Kat Luna.

***

To read Blake Gray’s write-up of this same tasting: http://www.winereviewonline.com/Blake_Gray_on_Aussie_Riesling.cfm

***

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

Attending Semillon University, Part 1

Presenting the egg

presenting the egg

Natural Selection Theory 2010 Quartz

Natural Selection Theory 2010 “Quartz” Hunter Valley Semillon

John, Renee, Kate, Hardy

John, Renee, Kate, Hardy listening to the egg

Stevie, Josiah

Stevie, Josiah viewing the egg

Okay, look, I’m totally joking about that “Attending Semillon University” bit. The truth is, most of us really do take wine THAT seriously, but this was just a super devoted Semillon party. Although at one point John, one of the hosts, did comment, “Dude. We’re making Ribolla jealous.”

We opened the occasion a touch early, before the big group arrived with a very special wine brought back from Australia. A small group of playful, and talented winemakers labeled the Natural Selection Theory (NST) made very small experimental lots of Hunter Valley Semillon in ceramic eggs. The story (which I’ve been slowly getting ready to write on in a few weeks, so I’ll leave many of the details for then) is full of brilliance, hilarity, and ultimately also sadness. Sam Hughes, one of the winemakers, died this recent December.

To be carrying one of NST’s ceramic eggs back then from Victoria, as a gift from David Fesq to be shared with friends here in California, was overwhelming. It’s hard to express how grateful I am.

Hardy Wallace, of Dirty & Rowdy Family Wines, knew of the NST project, and had considered NST’s Semillon a dream wine that he hoped, but didn’t quite expect to one day drink. Without knowing Wallace’s wish to drink the NST, when Fesq first gifted me the egg, I knew Hardy, and his wife Kate were the two people I would wait to open the wine with. We decided the party was the perfect occasion.

In recognition of Hughes’s work, in gratefulness for friendship, and in high regard for the true treasures of rarity that fill the world, a few of us opened Natural Selection Theory’s 2010 “Quartz” to open a Semillon party, that hosts Hardy Wallace, Matthew Rorick (of Forlorn Hope Wines), and John Trinidad (of Just-Plain-Awesome) all affectionately named “Semageddon 2013.” Dude, we even had t-shirts.

The wine in the egg turned out to be beautiful to drink, fascinating in its ever turning presentation, and rich in flavor with a truly juicy-vibrant finish. It could have aged for years more. It was one of my top favorites of the wines tasted. Coupling the loveliness of the wine itself, with the gratefulness of sharing the egg with such a group of friends… let me say, such moments are why I do everything I do. Thank you.

Jr. was kind enough to take pictures. The photos of the egg opening ceremony were taken by Jr. The rest were taken throughout the party by me. Following are notes too on a few of the stand out wines.

Photos from Semageddon 2013

Hardy and I with the egg

Hardy and I with the egg

Hardy and I

Having discovered that the Natural Selection Theory was one of Hardy’s dream wines, I asked if he would please do the honor of opening it for all of us.

Hardy and the egg

Hardy and the egg

Opening the egg

the egg holds the answer to a question.

Opening the egg

opening the egg

Joyfully pouring the egg

first pour

Cheers to friendship

Cheers

the answer is sharing in friendship

Cheers

A Few Wines from the Party

* Australia

Three vintage vertical of Brokenwood Semillon

Old Bridge Cellars sent along a three vintage vertical of Brokenwood’s Hunter Valley Semillon. The 2012 was a great example of how outrageously pert and nervy young Hunter Valley truly is. It was full of searingly focused lemon and white grapefruit with beach grass touches and a rich round mouthfeel. The 2008 hit decidedly between the two vintages, sliding closer to the 2012 in presentation than one would expect after tasting the earthiness of the 2007. The 2008 kept the citrus elements of the 2012 while dialing them in with a bit of a closed phase in comparison. The 2007 gave a nice insight into how rich, and earthy the Hunter Valley Semillon’s get with age, though the wine could have aged for years more. It complemented citrus elements with dried herbal aspects, richer on the palate than the nose. Pretty all around though. I recommend older vintages of Brokenwood.

Erin and Tyrrell 1997

Erin holding Tyrrell 1997

Sticking with the Hunter Valley, Tegan and Matthew brought some older vintages of Tyrrell’s Wines, one from 2007 and 1997. Both were great examples at the rich earthiness, dark dried beach grasses, and dried herbal aspects of aged Hunter Valley with still juicy juicy acidity. Both vintages were yummy, but the 1997 showed-up its brother giving a grounded richness that the 2007 seemed to be sleeping through before getting ready to show.

Amy and Renee with Torbreck 2010

Amy and Renee with the Torbreck 2010 Woodcutter’s Semillon

Staying with Australia, but moving over to Barossa Valley, Torbreck sent their 2010 Woodcutter’s Semillon. The Barossa’s style gives wines with a lighter focus, and more rounded acidity compared to the high-nervy youth of the Hunter. Torbreck’s Semillon ages beautifully into herbal notes on a delicate frame. The 2010 shows an almost rustic focus right now as though the wine is rooting down to prepare for sleep before a big journey. It’s a tasty wine with more traction and less scream than its Hunter Valley cousins.

* California

Josiah with Dirty and Rowdy

Josiah getting Dirty & Rowdy

Dirty & Rowdy debuted their newly bottled 2012 Semillon, showing what a blend of skin contact lots with a straight-to-press fermented in concrete lot can do. The result is a richly flavored, pleasurably textured focus on lightly salty beach grass, dried wild farmed herbs, and stone. The fruit is hiding right now, an indication, I believe, of even more to come from this wine. Where the 2011 D&R Semillon was feral and jive-talking, the 2012 carries sophistication and still hometown attitude. The jive talker has upgraded into a new suit and hat still coupled with b-boy shoes.

5 vintage vertical Forlorn Hope Nacre

One of the real treats of the party included a five vintage vertical of Forlorn Hope‘s “Nacre” Semillon. The 2006 and 2007 were shared from magnum, with 2008-2010 offered in 750s. The 2006 gave a pretty, citrus blossom with smoky and sandy beach grass presentation followed by a long shivering, super juicy finish. The 2010, on the far other end, came in with zippy jalapeno notes, nut paper, and lemon plus white grapefruit zestiness. This vintage is not yet released and drinks like its pinching itself to wake up and get ready–not quite there yet but full of rich dreaming to share in the near future. In the middle, the 2008 was my favorite of the five vintages giving a lovely balance of earthy, grassy, herbalness, with refreshing citrus juiciness and dance. Yum.

Bedrock 2009 Late Harvest Semillon

In the dessert wine category, Bedrock‘s 2009 Late Harvest Semillon from the gorgeous Monte Rosso site picks fruit from late 1800s vines, planted at high elevation. The wine has great richness and concentration with a sneaking core of vibrant juiciness that washes the palate again and again. Lovely.

A Few More Photos

With so many wines to taste eventually the notes stopping being taken, and the moments were captured simply with pictures of standouts. Here are a few.

Weichi

not yet released Weichi 2012 California (this wine is good-keep an eye out for it-it’s got a great round, lightly weighted mouthfeel with light beach grass, beeswax with hints of honey, touches of gooseberry and citrus)

John and Matthiasson Semillon

John with Matthiasson‘s 2011 Semillon from Napa (this is an ultra small production wine that is refreshing, delicate, pretty, and clean. It’s a lovely combination of citrus, and tomato leaf that I really enjoy but also wouldn’t have blinded as Semillon.)

Moose Pie and Corn

moose pie and corn

Cheers

in love with wine

eventually we all fell into Burgundy

IMG_4361

Hardy reaches to touch the Burgundy

IMG_4363

(I love how Matthew gets progressively more excited as Hardy gets ever closer)

Some of the party

only some of the bottles

***

Thank you to Matthew Rorick, Hardy Wallace, and John Trinidad.

Check out this great write up on Semageddon 2013 by Tom Wark over on his blog, Fermentation: http://fermentationwineblog.com/2013/05/napa-come-for-the-wine-stay-for-the-people/

A few thoughts from Mister Hardy Wallace himself on it: http://dirtyandrowdy.tumblr.com/post/49784399237/the-day-after-semegeddon

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

We were able to gather 11 wines total from South Australia for a tasting bringing together a few of the smaller boutique labels, with a few of the more established ones. The vintages also varied between 2003 and 2012.

This Monday several of us got together to taste, enjoy, and talk through the wines. I retasted everything again the next day, and then once more the day after. The wines were not tasted blind because part of the interest was talking through the different regions and age of the wines. Here are the tasting notes.

Tasting South Australia

Much of South Australia has warmer temperatures bringing wines with a softer structural presentation. However, Clare Valley is one exception represented in the tasting, offering a moderate continental climate with cool nights. It is also one of the oldest wine regions in the country, and with its cooler nights and elevation is known for its Riesling.

General insight states that South Australian wines age less long than those from cooler climate areas, such as Victoria or Tasmania. However, to give us some glimpse at exceptions, Torbreck sent two older vintage wines, both also made partially from older vines.

The whites presented strongest overall in the tasting with the Kilikanoon Riesling, and the Torbreck Semillon showing best to the group in the tasting overall. The Torbreck Steading, and Ochota Barrels Grenache Syrah blend were the most pleasing of the reds. Details follow.

Flight 1: The Whites

South Australian Whites

Kilikanoon Clare Valley 2009 Mort’s Reserve Watervale Riesling, Kanta Egon Muller 2010 Riesling, Torbreck Barossa Valley 2004 Woodcutter’s Semillon

* Kilikanoon Clare Valley 2009 Mort’s Reserve Watervale Riesling 12.5%
Opening with classic petrol in nose and palate, that lifts to some degree with air, the Kilakanoon gives green apple notes with gritty texture coming through on a distinct mineral tension through the throat, vibrant acidity, and a tang finish. The wine starts high and lifted in the mouth, with lots of juiciness, followed by a grabbing finish full of tension and length. I vote yes.

Kanta Egon Muller 2010 Riesling 13.5%
Where the Kilakanoon comes in fresh and lifted, the Kanta has more weight. The nose is floral, and more candied, moving into a tart opening on the palate with a driven apple tang rise that grips the mouth for a gritty tart close all with a polished sand texture. The acidity here is juicy. If you prefer more of a fruit focus and slightly wider palate to your Riesling, you’ll like the Kanta better. It’s a nicely made wine but not my style. The weight of the wine and breadth of the palate work against me.

* Torbreck Barossa Valley 2004 Woodcutter’s Semillon 14.5%
The Woodcutter’s Semillon was my favorite of the entire tasting. It gave delicacy with depth, drinking (interestingly enough) like a nicely aged Rhone white. The nose was pretty and light, balanced with both a floral-herbal lift and a mid-range breadth of light marzipan on the nose. The palate carried through without sweetness, offering clean delicate flavors adding in light beach grass notes and a long saline finish. This wine offered good presence, with a delicate presentation, and nice weight.

Flight 2: Grenache Reds

South Australia Grenache Reds

d’Arenberg the Derelict Vineyard 2009 McLaren Vale Grenache, Ochota Barrels 2012 the Green Room Grenache Noir Syrah

These two wines come from starkly different styles giving an interesting contrast on treatment of Grenache.

d’Arenberg the Derelict Vineyard 2009 McLaren Vale Grenache 14.5%
d’Arenberg offers a rich focused presentation that is comfortable using oak to integrate spice with the fruit. The Derelict Vineyard Grenache serves as a nice example of a wine committed to this style and doing a fine job of it. It gives a layered presentation of flavors including lightly sweet fruit, lightly sweet baking spice, primarily clove and ginger, and an earthy groundedness. The fruit is juicy without being overly extracted. The wine shows best on its first day as it showed its oak more than its fruit as it stayed open longer giving stronger pencil elements–both the wood and graphite–as it got more air. It did not drink well on day 3.

Ochota Barrels 2012 the Green Room Grenache Noir Syrah 13.8%
The Ochota is quaffable and fresh, all about lifted fresh drink-now fruit. It drinks like a cool climate grenache with those slightly under-ripe elements alongside fruity varietal expression. The wine is fun, and lively, meant to be enjoyed while cooking and laughing with friends. It gives pink flowers, strawberry, orange peel, cardamom, and fennel seed on the finish. There are stem chewing elements that provide interest on what would otherwise be an ultra light fruit driven wine. This wine is pleasing and very much about varietal character, rather than about showing off the soil or site in which it’s grown.

(I was joking with Amy during the tasting that where the Ochota is meant to be gulped with friends at the start of a bbq while the meat is cooking but not yet ready, the d’Arenberg is the wine a slightly old school man would pour for you in front of a fire at night when he’s getting up the guts to make his first move.)

Flight 3: Shiraz and blend

South Australia Shiraz and blend

Adelina 2010 Clare Valley Shiraz, John Duval Entity 2010 Barossa Valley Shiraz, Torbreck 2003 The Steading Barossa Valley GSM

Properly speaking the Torbreck should have been placed in the previous flight. The Shiraz didn’t impact the flavor of the Torbreck. It would simply have suited the Grenache flight better.

Unfortunately, both the Adelina and the John Duval Wines were not pleasing here. Based on the texture and flavor composition of the wines I believe the bottles had been heat effected. With that in mind I cannot provide proper notes here as I believe what we tasted does not represent how the wines were made.

* Torbreck 2003 The Steading Barossa Valley 14.5% Grenache 60% Shiraz 20% Mataro 20%
The wine opens with a bretty sense that blows off and becomes animal musk on forest floor. The nose carries into the palate layering in an enlivening iodine element alongside porcini and seaweed umami with a long tingling finish and polished tannin. The alcohol is lightly hot here but palatable. The wine holds strong on day 3 bringing in a smoked cherry element and a touch more of the alcohol heat. This wine may be a year or so past its prime but that said I enjoyed it and was impressed by how well it showed on day 3.

Flight 4: Other Reds

South Australian Reds

Alpha Box & Dice 2007 Blood of Jupiter, Samuel’s Gorge 2011 Tempranillo McLaren Vale

Alpha Box & Dice 2007 Blood of Jupiter 15.5% Sangiovese 85% Cabernet 15%
The label Alpha Box & Dice is known for their commitment to experimentation and trying new blends to see what works. That is the sort of interest I appreciate, and in trying such wines some levity has to be allowed in the risk. This is all by way of saying I appreciate the work done here while at the same time am not a fan of this particular blend. The wine is drinkable while singular. It focuses primarily on fruit and spice without enough layered flavor.

Samuel’s Gorge 2011 McLaren Vale Tempranillo 14.5%
This was one of the harder wines for me as it comes in with big fruit and collapses into leather. The structure is soft collapsing in quick stages on the palate with a semi-long finish. There is more fruit than this wine’s spine carries. The varietal character does not show.

Flight 5: Dessert

South Australian Pedro Ximenez

Dandelion Vineyards Legacy of the Barossa 30 year old Pedro Ximenez

Dandelion Vineyards Legacy of the Barossa 30 year old Pedro Ximenez 19%
The Pedro Ximenez enters with a fresh, delicate nose that is lightly nutty, turning into black walnut and baking spice on the palate with a long juicy finish. The flavors are pleasing but I’d prefer more acidity to help wash the palate. Without the higher acidity it gets heavy in the mouth. This wine demands cheese.

***

Thank you to each of the importers that provided these wines as samples.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Meeting Gary Mills

Going further in

We arrive on a day Jamsheed is being labeled, waxed, and packaged. The wines going out to fill orders in Australia. Gary Mills greets us with a huge smile. I’m lucky. Mike Bennie, an Australian wine writer that has a good rapport with Mills, has brought me for the visit.

Gary Mills references me living in California almost immediately. But not until after nicknaming me Lady Hawke (which I appreciate). It turns out he worked for Paul Draper at Ridge Monte Bello first as an intern, and then for two years full-time from 1998 to 2001 and credits Draper as the man that taught Mills real wine. Mills knew winemaking already, and in fact has an impressive resume otherwise, having worked in both Oregon and other areas of Australia, among others. But it is Draper that Mills claims taught him most insightfully about indigenous yeast, whole cluster ferments, and other classic approaches to wine.

Now with his own label, Mills sources fruit from a few vineyards in different parts of Victoria. Doing so gives him the opportunity to get to know the character of multiple areas in the Province, and to offer varying types of fruit.

Gary Mills

When we get to tasting through the wines Mills explains his labels symbolism. His college education was in Literature. The story of Jamsheed relates the chance discovery of wine by a harem mistress of a Persian King. Jamsheed, the king, loved grapes so much he would store them all winter, leading to their spontaneous fermentation. At first thinking it was poison, the king kept the containers hidden. But suffering from migraines, one of his harem mistresses drank the poison in attempted suicide and awoke the next day to discover herself miraculously cured. After discovering the benefits of drinking such poison, Jamsheed would say he could see his kingdom in a cup of wine. Thus, Mills named his label for the mythic first maker of wine, and jokes that his wine label is all he got from his undergraduate Literature education.

Mills second tier label he names the Harem series in respect for the women that helped Jamsheed discover the grape elixir. The Harem Series intent is to offer quality wines at a more affordable price. By having both Jamsheed and the Harem series, Mills is also able to preserve the quality of the Jamsheed wines by having the opportunity to declassify fruit to make for the Harem series.

Though Jamsheed’s mythology inspires Mill’s label’s name, it’s Rumi’s writing that covers it–quotes from the poet showing on both the Jamsheed packaging and website. It is here I first get glimmers of Mills’ creative and spiritual inclinations, though they dance behind his more apparent joviality.

Starting with the whites

The Madame Chardonnay 2012 from the Harem Series shows example of Mills intent to keep quality with value. It sells for only $19.50 and offers a great bistro style option with juicy citrus blossom, impressive acidity, a zippy mid-palate followed by a pleasing saline and oyster shell finish. It also offers an example of the great quality Australia is producing in Chardonnay–even at the $20 range these wines are yummy.

Stepping up to a Jamsheed level white, Mills pours us his 2012 Beechworth Roussanne taken from the Warner Vineyard. It’s a nervy wine with a smooth wax feel and tons of lightness through the palate. The Warner Vineyard is loaded with pink granite, he tells us. The owners had to remove hundreds of tons of granite to put in vines. The nerviness comes with the granite influence. The acidity comes from the cool sub-alpine climate. The fruit is delicate and floral on the nose, carrying into a spiced floral, light palate both stimulating and peppered.

Great Western Riesling

As we move into the Great Western Riesling from the Garden Gully Vineyard, Mills explains that the Garden Gully Vineyard the fruit comes from is the oldest Riesling in Victoria, possibly in Australia, believed to be planted in 1892.

The 2012 comes in with concentrated flavors compared to the lightness of the 2011.The 2012 is fragrant with nasturtium, beeswax, and light prosciutto on the palate. It has a rolling, fresh, lush presentation that moves with a light glissé over the tongue. 2011 has a dryer dusty nose, and a super delicate palate. The wine offers a tightened sense of beeswax and honey comb without the sweetness, and a smooth mouthfeel.

2011 was a cold year with lots of rain throughout that made people work extra hard to get their fruit. ’12, by comparison, was a more normal year resembling the vintage received in both Oregon and California–lots of quality fruit that seems ready to drink early.

The Harem Series

The Harem series reds continue with the bistro level quality that showed in the Madame Chardonnay. Here we begin to see his use of whole cluster with 50% being used in the Pinot. Mills explains it was with Draper that Mills tasted his first 100% whole cluster wine, a Ridge York Creek Dynamite Hill Petite Sirah. It was from that wine Mills saw what whole cluster could do and he’s been committed to it ever since.

The 2012 pepé le pinot from Mornington is ultra light in its presentation, carrying stem spice, and light dark plum with plum blossom, as well as lifted green notes (not as in underripe, but as in greenery).

The 2012 ma petite francine Yarra Valley Cab Franc takes up 100% whole cluster giving a refreshing red floral and spice wine that hits a nice balance of being grounded and lifted both. The spice is characteristic Victoria to me, all dusty red earth, saffron, and long ferric notes. I like this wine.

2011 la syrah is a dirtier wine with barnyard showing at first that blows off into violets, red fruit and flower, and some carbonic up notes. The acidity and drive is intense, clenching the cheek bones and finishing with a tang. This is the wine that begins to show where some people may be challenged by Jamsheed. The la syrah is well made while also funky.  The 2011 Syrahs

Mills ease with whole cluster fermentation shows most apparently in the Jamsheed Syrahs–the approach drinking as seamlessly integrated into the overall presentation of the wine. Tasting through Mills’ portfolio I am struck by the same coupling that showed up in his personality–he has a jovial nature coupled with a creative seriousness that gives him grounding. The wines drink this way.

2011’s cooler vintage brings a lean focus to each of the Jamsheed Syrahs.

The Yarra Valley Healesville is the lightest of the three pictured giving a super fresh and juicy presentation peppered with hot chili spice flavors without the chili heat, a nutty greenery element with integrated carbonic lift, and hints of the entire southwest of the United States–cacti, agave sweetness, fresh from the kiln ceramics, red wax flower and a dusty texture that is just a little bit weedy.

The Beechworth Syrah 2011 comes from a sub-alpine district in granite vineyard. At first opening, the wine gives good mouth tension, with bubble gum, red fruit and flower lifted notes, coupled with integrated spice, red dusty earth, and a band of fresh stems and nut skin. I was able to drink it again in the states and thus take more time with this bottle. It showed rich and pleasing on the second day deepening into violet and dark berries with tart plum, chocolate, a tight long finish and good grip. The iron-saline mineral expression of the region is also there but well integrated.

Finally, the 2011 Great Western Garden Gully, Mills explains comes from a vineyard full of 119 year old vines. It’s an old style Syrah made for people that want a balance of juiciness with wine that’s there to chew on. Mills calls this his “old boys wine.” It comes in with purple flower, agave, and masa, all green chili and corn tamale with the rolling tannin characteristic of the region, and a nut wax, banana leaf finish. I’m in.

The Syrahs Mills makes showoff the geographical parallels between parts of Victoria with parts of the American Southwest. Drinking them in Victoria the wines are fully in line with their sense of place. Bringing them back to the United States it’s an interesting contrast that includes what for some people will be a recalibration of their palate. It’s a recalibration worth making, and perhaps even important.

Gary Mills

As Bennie described later, Mills’ approach is uncompromising. For some people that means wines that are a challenge. Where Mills’ doesn’t compromise is in allowing the site to express itself, even if that means bigger flavored wines. He is also committed to no acidity additions, and whole cluster fermentation, though he does vary the portion of whole cluster by vintage and site character.

The Mills challenge finally showed up for me at the end of barrel tasting through the 2012 Syrahs. 2012 was a ripe year and so even with keeping lower alcohol levels, the wines simply have bigger flavors. The 2012 Syrahs as a whole drink fresh and juicy, closer to a bottled wine even while still in barrel. But Garden Gully, that same vineyard the Riesling is sourced from, carries a distinctly ferric-plus-salty character in its red fruit, something found in a number of sites through Victoria. The combination of those big flavors plus the overtly mineral mouth-grab was almost overwhelming for me. That said, I’m fascinated to discover how the wine will show in a few years. Especially recognizing that it was the same wine that from the 2011 vintage pulled me in.

The Jamsheed Syrahs, I believe, offer an interesting lesson for California winemakers too. Where some California Syrahs drink like the winemakers behind them are experimenting with their techniques–not quite cohesive, Jamsheed drinks like wine already comfortable without being boring.

***

Thank you to Gary Mills, and to Mike Bennie.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Hosting a Private Tasting

At the start of this week I hosted a small private tasting of 8 wines from Victoria. There are others I was lucky enough to bring back to the States as well but those are reserved for other tastings (and I’ll be honest, the Jamsheed 2011 Syrah is just mine ALL MINE MINE). The group was a mix of winemakers, sommeliers, and wine devotees curious about Australian wine, and wanting to hear about my trip.

The tasting was organized into three flights based on weight, and type. We did not taste blind because part of the point of the tasting was education. So, with each wine I gave some background on the label, and region–its climate, soil, and traditions.

The tasting turned out to be an interesting experience in wine psychology too, as the wines, I believe, were challenging for the group both in terms of going against Australian wine stereotypes, and in terms of being structurally distinct from what the tasting group is more used to drinking from outside Australia.

Partially because of my Jamsheed selfishness, and partially because I was unable to carry back bottles from that area, I was not able to bring a Yarra Valley representative, nor did I have any wine from the Mornington Peninsula. These oversights are significant in representing Victorian wine, however. Yarra Valley has the highest proportion of quality wines coming out of the Province, and Mornington Peninsula gets the most press.

The following notes represent the following tasting practice: wines were examined within the group tasting initially. Then I re-tasted the wines that same evening, and again the next day spending more time with each of the wines in follow up tastings than I was able to when with the tasting group.

Here are notes on the wines.

Flight 1: Whites

Victoria tasting whites flight

2012 Between Five Bells White Blend, Chardonnay, Pinot gris, Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, Riesling, 12.5% alcohol

The Between Five Bells motto is “for no other reason than to be delicious.” However, the wines’ design is also to go against the more common Australian practice of bottling varietal wines by creating varietally ambiguous blends. The grape components of the label’s blends vary by vintage. Fruit for 2012 primarily from Geelong. The 2012 white is not yet released.

The 2012 white blend accomplishes the goals of both deliciousness and ambiguity. The nose rolls through a long range of various lighter colored fruits settling finally with guava, lemon, and lychee. This wine keeps rolling as its exposed to air, but the guava and lychee do show primarily when the wine has opened and relaxed into the glass. The palate follows also carrying dried grasses, touches of candle wax, and finally a long saline finish. Production allowed full malolactic fermentation offering a softening of still vibrant acidity. The waxy element marries into a kind of underbelly smoothness on this wine, that moves under the acidic lift and saline texture. In the end, the smoothness-plus-waxiness works against me. It’s a refreshing glass to start with, and very much a summer porch wine. I’d want it at the start of a bbq. But as it continues, the guava-lychee character weighs on my palate and I would be ready to transition into a light bodied red.

The 2011 blend used different grape types, and had a more fleshy texture to it that highly appeals to me. I will be writing about it next week as part of a Pinot Meunier tasting. Between Five Bells also makes an annual red blend, and a rosé.

* Byrne 2011 Chardonnay, 12.5% alcohol

Byrne creates very small production Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with fruit sourced from the Ballarat region, a cool climate area a bit inland from Geelong.

I am a fan of the Byrne Chardonnay. With such a cool vintage the 2011 screams with acidity, which will calm with some age. In technical aspects this wine is brilliantly made, and will be interesting to taste again with a little more time on the bottle (the 2010 is award winning and drinks well right now). For both quality and interest I would put it alongside Chardonnay from anywhere. The wine offers well integrated reductive elements showing through light matchstick upon opening that relaxes into flint with some air, and time open. The fruit is all citrus, rolling through a full range of lemon zest to juice to pith to blossom. In the palate the flavors are meaty, with both lemon and lime accents and reductive touches that hit with corn meal notes on a long, zesty finish. I also like the viscosity-with-tension of this wine on the palate.

Having tasted both the current release 2010 vintage (the first vintage for Byrne), and a bottle sample of the 2012 I am in support of this label’s Chardonnay and am excited to keep watching his work.

Bindi 2011 Composition Chardonnay, 13.0% alcohol

Bindi finds its home with older vines grown in quartz, alluvial, and volcanic soils of the Macedon Ranges, west of Melbourne. The family focus is on Chardonnay and Pinor Noir made with an incredibly light touch, relying on wild ferment in a cool climate.

The wine first opens with a predominately vegetal-matchstick reductive nose that softens with air. The reductive elements obscure the fruit initially, but dissipate enough to reveal lemon zest, and white grapefruit zest. The palate follows, with both the fruit and matchstick notes. As the wine opens, however, a refreshing stoniness shows giving a long stimulating finish. The acidity here is quite vibrant, (while more integrated than on the Byrne currently). I enjoy the Bindi Chardonnay once its had the chance to rest in the glass a bit. This bottle does well with opening in advance of drinking. When first opened the reductive elements quickly pile up on the palate.

Flight 2: Pinot Noir

Victoria Pinot Noir

Bindi 2011 Pinot Noir, 13.0%

The Bindi 2011 Pinot Noir is a very light presentation, delicate bodied wine with still concentrated notes ranging from Eucalyptus flavors, to chinotto-like herbal aromas. There is some dried raspberry, and light waxy touches, alongside dried orange peel. This wine was one of the more challenging ones for the group as its various characteristics are surprising to find together in one wine–lighter more delicate overall presentation, while still medicinal, rolling into a ferric-salt-tannin finish. The wine drank best soon after opening, with the medicinal aspects dominating the next day in a way I found unpleasing.

The 2011 vintage was incredibly challenging through the region, especially for red wines (many people were simply unable to make Pinot Noir, for example), so I am quite interested to taste other vintages.

* Lethbridge 2009 Mietta Pinot Noir, 13.5%

Mietta is Lethbridge‘s highest end Pinot, grown on their home estate in the basalt-over-limestone soils of Geelong. Structurally this wine consistently presents across vintages like an Arabian horse–all lithe wired, muscular tannins, and expressive mane swishing presentation. The wine is held for several years before release, with the 2009 expected to be available later this year.

The wine opens initially with a disjunct between the flavors of the wine, and the body. It’s as if they arrive separately and then work against each other on the palate. By the evening, however, the two had resolved and were working in good harmony with the tannin effect in the mouth having smoothed, and the flavors having become more knit. The wine drank even better on the second day with its texture and flavor profile becoming more lush. There are notes of smoked meat, with an integrated crunchy berry element, coming before a light herbal digestive note on the finish. The wine also carries a very light menthol up touch that shows more initially than later, but presents as refreshing. The ferric-salty tannin I find characteristic of Victoria reds lingers long in the palate, with touches of saffron. At first opening this finish is difficult, but integrates beautifully when opened in advance of drinking.

The Mietta wants to be opened and left open before drinking. It is challenging at first, and with air becomes a beautiful, complex wine. Drink with food.

Flight 3: Reds

Victoria Reds

Best’s Great Western Bin 0 2010 Shiraz, 13.5%

The Bin 0 Shiraz takes fruit from around Best’s Concongalla site in Great Western, a continental cool climate. The blend brings together juice from plantings established in 1867, 1966, and 1970. In that way it’s a historic treasure trove.

Bin 0 2010 shows best upon initial opening of the reds, being quite drinkable. That said, I felt it needed food more than any of the other wines, and even more so when tasting again the second day. The tannin became more pervasive with air. The flavors here include the light touches of the eucalyptus characteristic of the region, which build in the glass with exposure to air, also offering dried cherry, cocoa, smoked meat, and paprika, with some gaminess, and a long ferric-salty finish. The ferric-salty combo piles up in the mouth for me over time, again encouraging the need for food. This is another wine that I want a glass of, alongside a rib eye steak, and then want to move into a more tightly focused red with the second glass.

The Best’s wine was one of the favorites of other members of the group, however. For a point of comparison, Best’s Bin 1 Shiraz carries less complexity than the Bin 0 but is also, as a result, a more approachable option. Best’s is also well worth investigating for other tasting options. (Next week I’ll also be featuring their Pinot Meunier in a tasting.)

Between Five Bells 2012 Heathcote Red Blend, Nero d’ Avola, Nero Amaro, Riesling skins, Shiraz, guessing around 13% alcohol

Between Five Bells traditionally makes an annual red blend, white blend, and rosé all with fruit from Geelong. In 2012 they decided to add another red blend to the mix taking fruit from Heathcote, to the north of Melbourne. The blend brings together Italian varieties with a small portion of Shiraz, and Riesling skins during fermentation. This wine is not yet released.

The Heathcote red blend carries significant contrast between the nose and the palate, with the nose showcasing exotic red fruits and flowers elevated by a light carbonic element, and lifted spices, while the palate carries a richer, juicy, darker flavored presentation. The palate is yummy and pleasing showing smoke, rare steak, dried cherry, and bay leaf. The wine is designed to be drinkable immediately but did well with some air time with the flavors-to-structure becoming more resolved. There is a nice light traction finish here as well.

(For my fellow wine geeks that I know are curious: There is nothing in this wine that speaks to the Italian heritage of the grapes, but it does show a more polished expression of those grapes in Australia. To put it another way, I don’t count the non-Sicilian/non-Southern-Italian character of this wine as a bad thing. Though I have to admit I was fascinated to taste it initially because I love these grapes in Italy.)

Pyren Vineyards Broken Quartz 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.5%

The Pyren Vineyards site, on the slopes of the Warrenmang Valley of the Pyrenees region, are covered in quartz. The Cabernet is an insane value, sold by the winery for $240/case, that’s $20 a bottle.

The Broken Quartz Cab was one of the stranger wines of the tasting, with the Cabernet showing up varietally only through the tannin structure. The wine instead drinks with more lifted, bright fruit carbonic-like elements (unfortunately, I don’t have any information on how it was produced) that a couple of people commented were hard to wrap the mind around. There were flavors of blackberry and rhubarb, that deepen into darker fruit and smoke as the wine is left open for a few hours. The next day the wine had softened into red fruit and chocolate, complete with a cocoa-tannin texture. The overall presentation is light for a Cabernet, while still carrying its tannin, as mentioned. I am curious to hear more about how this wine ages. As mentioned, for $20 this wine is impressive value but should be approached as an ambiguous red, rather than a Cabernet.

***

These wines were all provided as samples.

Thank you to Ronnie Sanders, David Fesq, Alex Byrne, Ray Nadeson, Maree Collis, Jonathan Mogg.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Historic and Quality Wine at Best’s Great Western

The Gold Rush hit Victoria, Australia in the 1850s bringing incredible wealth through the region, as well as increased settlements and immigration. With the larger population other services were also required. Brothers Joseph and Henry Best worked as butchers, supplying meat to the region. However, as the gold supply started to wain, so did the demand for food businesses. Not everyone that rushed for gold stayed.

Joseph and Henry had befriended a French pair, Troutte and Blampied, growing vines sourced from the original Busby collection brought into Australia in 1833 from France and Spain. The Busby collection is considered one of the most diverse, and serious of the various waves of vine imports to the country. Turning to the offer of fate, the Best brothers decided to take up a new industry both to themselves and the region of Great Western. The district had had some small early success in planting vines, but it was not yet thoroughly developed.

In the late 1860s, each brother purchased property on which to root their vines. While Joseph’s vineyards later moved into corporate ownership (a small number of these original vines remain but they are blended in with other wine. Most were pulled for the sake of production levels.), Henry Best’s vineyards remain intact, owned by the same family, the Thompsons, that bought the land originally following Henry’s death in 1920.

The original nursery block at Best's, planted in 1866

In the 1860s, Henry planted 39 varieties over 22 hectares. The types were planted side by side on own roots, and left to discover which would best succeed in the conditions of the Best property. Incredibly, those same plantings exist today in what is known as Best’s Nursery Block. The winery also bottles both a white and red field blend from the Nursery Block, available at the Cellar Door.

8 of the varieties present in the Nursery Block remain unidentified. The Thompson family has allowed genetic samples of the original plantings to be taken in order to accurately name the grape types. However, even with extensive research and genetic matching attempts, eight of the vines remain unknown.

I find these 8 vines mind blowing–no one knows where they originated, or how prevalent they may have been elsewhere when first brought to Australia. They represent a small glimmer into the indiscernible element of wine’s past. The field blend wines from the Nursery Block are both strange and wonderful to taste, offering a lightness of foot while also hard to grasp flavors. In both cases, I enjoyed the delicate while rustic aromas offered through a lighter-side-of-medium bodied wine.

Today genetic researchers still regularly request cuttings and study of the Best’s Nursery Block, as the isolation of the plantings, as well as the integrity they show with age (pre-phylloxera plantings on their own roots) make them a unique library of information.

Some of the nursery vines

close up of vines from the 1860s Nursery Block

In 1867 and 1868 the Thompson Family Block was established, fifteen rows of dry farmed, own rooted Shiraz planted in sandy loam. Those plantings exist today and are still bottled, when possible, in a separate Thompson Family Shiraz.

They grow everything here (and old)

Best also identified what are now known as Dolcetto and Pinot Meunier as appropriate matches to the region. As a result, the vineyards include a block of Pinot Meunier from 1867, also dry farmed. In 1971, cuttings were taken from the Pinot Meunier portion of this block and established as what they now call the “Young Vine” Pinot Meunier vineyard.

Going through the Pinot Meunier block, 15% of the historic vines turn out to be Pinot Noir. In 1868, some of the Pinot Noir was planted in a block now bottled as Best’s “Old Clone.”  At the time of planting, the vine was simply understood as an unidentified Burgundian clone.

In 1869, a 12-row block of Dolcetto was also established, though the vine was not well known at the time, today still intact on their own roots as planted. However, the juice from these wines is generally blended with fruit from 1971 plantings established from the original vines.

Nursery block field blend

a glimpse of the 1860s Nursery Block field blend–white in front, red in the distance

By 1870, the Best Vineyard had established 48,000 vines. The Thompson family has worked to preserve the genetic lineage of their unique site in multiple ways. Cuttings have been taken from each of the nursery block plants and established in a new location with the same basic layout. Similarly, young blocks of the original Pinot Meunier and Shiraz have also been established.

Looking over the Shiraz Vineyards at Best's

The vineyard plantings outside the Nursery Block are known as the Concongella Block, named for the river that neighbors the property. Best’s Great Western Concongella site showcases the characteristics of the region–a more continental climate, considered cool climate, but with warmer days, while still cool nights that allow both a ripeness of flavor and vibrant acidity, also allowing dry farming. The Eucalyptus of the region sneak their flavor into the reds but without being overwhelming. The soils help generate what I think of as melt away tannins–they are present in the mouth, and their effect is sustained on the palate, while being more crumbling than grippy or aggressive. This type of tannin seems characteristic of the Great Western district.  The old barn now the tasting room

The Best’s winery site showcases its history as well. An old work building now serves as the tasting room, or cellar door entrance. The facility allows visitors to take a self-directed tour of the historic aspects of the winery as well, many of them still functioning.

historic bottlings in the historic cellar

In the underground sections older bottles line the walls. The facility includes a complete vintage library going back to 1960.

Large tanks in the historic cellar

large size tanks throughout the historic cellars are used for aging reds before release

The crazy cap to the fermenting room

On the top floor of the historic winery a cap appears in the floor. When you then go downstairs the reason for the cap is revealed. The original cellar housed a massive, rounded room-size fermenter dug into the earth itself. A door has now been cut into the fermenter allowing it to be visible from below (there is no good way to get a picture of it). At the turn of 1800s into the 1900s, wine was made in the room-size fermenter by first lowering a man on a rope through the cap. He would use a large candle to line the entire room with wax. Then the grapes were put directly into the room to ferment in the massive vat underground. Standing inside of it, the room has intensely strange acoustics that make it uncomfortable to remain inside for very long. As a result, the fermenter is now used primarily for storage and display. Guessing, it was at least 20 ft deep, and about 15 ft across.

A bottle of 1976 vintage Pinot Meunier from 1876 vines, still intact

Inside the fermenter years ago some old bottles were found left there and forgotten about as storage materials. One of these was a 1976 Pinot Meunier made from the 1867 planting, which we were able to open. Later we also drank one from 2002, and tasted from the current vintages of Old Vine (planted in 1878), and Young Vine (planted in 1971) Pinot Meuniers. Pinot Meunier is one of my favorite grapes. These were lovely wines. (Thinking of them makes me feel dreamy.)

Best's Shiraz line up

Best’s makes a range of wines, but their central focus is on Shiraz. The Bin 1 bottling serves as the labels work horse with the highest production level, and the greatest overall accessibility. It’s a wonderfully juicy, rich flavored wine. The Bin 0 brings together a blend of the older vineyards, including those planted in 1966, and 1970. The Thompson Family bottling is made from the 15 rows originally planted in 1867, when possible. On years when the fruit from these rows is not appropriate for single vineyard bottling it is blended into Bin 0.

The overall quality of Best’s Great Western wines is solid, with a healthy balance between interesting, pleasurable flavors, and fantastic structure. I like the ruggedness that can be found in the older vine bottlings, but the juicy freshness of Bin 1 is impressive and enjoyable. These are well priced, quality wines. It is also a genuine honor to first visit vines of such age and grace, and then drink their wines. Thank you.

***

Thank you to Jonathan Mogg and David Fesq.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

Visiting Lethbridge Wine in Geelong

Olives at Lethbridge

Entering the winery at Lethbridge olive trees welcome you. The hardwood dots the property producing pressable fruit only every other year.

Lethbridge rests in Geelong at the Western reaches of Australia’s Southeastern province, Victoria. The area is aptly called a cool climate, consistently harvesting last among the mainland wine regions.

a look over the vineyard back towards the house

looking across the Lethbridge vineyards to the house

Together Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis established the Lethbridge Vineyards in 1996. The two both worked as academics in Melbourne at the time, Nadeson doing research and teaching in neuroscience, Collis in biochemistry.

Nadeson had an established love for wine, especially Burgundy. On days off from work, with a friend he would daydream about the idea of getting to make wine himself someday. Over time the brainstorm took hold till Collis and Nadeson together decided to research the possibility. They each completed programs in winemaking and spent time thinking through the principles implicit in a good vineyard site. Nadeson explained that they were determined to invest in a basic understanding of soil science, which led them to recognize the role of rocks in good vineyards around the world.

Ray and Maree, with Alex

Ray Nadeson, and Maree Collis began Lethbridge in the 1990s. With the production of Lethbridge Wine having expanded over time, Alex Byrne now also helps with their winemaking.

The couple spent several years searching for their ideal location. They wanted proximity to Melbourne because of their day jobs, soils that would support but challenge the vines, and a cooler location. At the time they were looking, Geelong was primarily ranch land. The area had been a historically important wine region for Australia, with vines planted through the area in the 1870s by Swiss immigrants. But in the early 1900s late 1800s, when phylloxera arrived on the continent, laws were enacted to pull all of the Geelong vineyards out.

The original 1880s wine shed

To find a suitable site, then, Nadeson and Collis applied their research skills to land maps. They identified the areas within driving distance of the city, then overlaid soil studies and ownership parcels. Finally, after a couple years of looking they zoned in on two potential properties near the town of Lethbridge. The sites weren’t for sale, so they decided to knock on the owners’ door.

Touring the land that would become their Lethbridge Estate, the owner at the time finally asked if the couple could use any old vineyard equipment. He walked them to a tin sided shack from the 1880s full of vineyard and winery materials left there from that century. Nadeson and Collis made an offer and soon after moved onto the land.

Looking across the Golden Plains, and part of Lethbridge Vineyards

Geelong sits in a region also known as the Golden Plains. The area is an old seabed full of limestone, but due to volcanic activity much of it is covered in a top layer of basalt. As a result, few trees show through the district, covered instead by surface crop, thus the grasses and flat land of the moniker.

Looking into the Basalt Soil

black basalt soil at the base of the Shiraz vines

The land of Lethbridge falls on a divide with dark basalt soils covering most of the vineyard, cracking in the dry weather of the region, and lighter basalt falling over other parts. (These cracks are impressively deep. As Ray mentioned, you could lose your keys in there.)

Volcanic Honey Comb Top Rock

honeycomb basalt rocks in the vineyard

The basalt is also dotted throughout with iron stone, or hematite. Only about six inches into the soil honeycomb basalt rocks begin to persistently appear resting atop a field of bluestone, a type of basalt boulder that was also harvested for government buildings in Victoria. Below rests the limestone.

8 year old vines sparsely showing shiraz

8-year old vines at Lethbridge

The result of the soil and climate combination at Lethbridge includes miniaturized vines, and ultra low yields. The ironstone is palpable on the palate resulting in light bloody notes in the Pinot, and a long ferric finish in the Shiraz. The soil-rock combination of the site also creates impressive tannin structure throughout the varieties grown at Lethbridge. The tannin is assertive without being aggressive or harsh. It’s a structure Nadeson explains he prefers. Lethbridge also hold their top-tier wines several years in bottle before release to help prepare the structure for drinking. As an example, their 2009 Mietta Pinot Noir (grown on the Lethbridge vineyard) is only about to be released.

We tasted an older Merlot-blend that showed far more grip than would be expected from the predominate grape. When I asked Nadeson how much Cabernet he’d blended in (expecting that was the source of the tannin) he told me very little, then walked me out to the Merlot vines. Tasting the fruit of the vine that same tannin is apparent.

Pinot Noir at normal yield level, very low

Lethbridge’s Mietta Pinot Noir Vines

The structural character of Lethbridge fruit is not only a matter of tannin, however. The cooler climate keeps excellent acidity throughout the wines. The depth of the vine roots, and the character of the soils generate a wonderful tension through the wine as well. It’s the same sort of description Chef de Cave identify as minerality in Champagne–a kind of flavor-muscular stimulation in the mouth. It pulls the flavors of the wine into unified concert with the structure of the wine by stimulating the tongue and creating an echoing tension effect. The flavors resonate, and the structure of the mouth literally responds long down the throat.

Lethbridge bottlings

Lethbridge produces three tiers of wine. The Allegra Chardonnay, Mietta Pinot Noir, Indra Shiraz, and Hugo George Super Tuscan represent their top level wines, all meant to age and are held in bottle for several years before release. We were able to taste multiple vintages going back to the first on each of these wines. They carry a smart progression of drinking nicely on the older vintages while still showing greater focus and clarity on the newer ones–the sign of an evolving while consistent winemaker. I especially liked the Allegra Chardonnays. They offer that pulpy texture of just biting into fresh orchard fruit, while carrying a mix of citrus and light apricot flavors touched by a focusing line of reductive character. Impressively, the 2004 and 2005 were brilliant right now.

Lethbridge’s midlevel label, the Estate bottlings, offer still generously flavored and structured wines, that drink a little sooner and still do well with age. Where the upper tier wines are very structurally focused, the estate bottlings come in comparatively more relaxed line. Compared to the Indra, the Estate Shiraz offers a more approachable style that is still definitively Geelong for its distant desert spice and wound lines, for example.

The Menage label represents their younger, most affordable line, with a juicy Pinot Noir as the real show piece. Lethbridge also revels in trying various new projects alongside their central themes. We were able to taste a range of one-offs and side bottlings that show the playful side of the winemakers. My favorite of these was their Riesling and dessert Rieslings–brilliant acidity throughout.

***

post-edit: I originally said early 1900s for the arrival of phylloxera, but it came over in botany samples in the late 1800s. The response was to enact vine pull laws through parts of Victoria in an attempt to protect other areas with vines. If you’d like to read more on this history here is a nice post from Gonna Warra Vineyards: http://www.goonawarra.com.au/a-taste-of-history

The blog Betty’s Wine Musings briefly mentions something I’d been told while traveling through Victoria, that the vine pull scheme was likely motivated by more political reasons than scientific need. Her post can be found here: http://www.bettyswinemusings.com/australian-wines-from-devastation-to-deluge

Also, Australian wine writer, Max Allen, wrote to clarify that while Geelong is a cool climate, and does start among the last for mainland harvest, other areas in mainland Australia can harvest later. Here’s what he had to say in email:

“Geelong is definitely a cooler climate wine region, yes, but there are quite
a few others on the mainland that consistently harvest later (or at least
consistently finish harvesting later) – Orange, 1000 metres up on the slopes
of an old volcano in New South Wales, for example, and Henty, further out in
the widescreen country of southwest Victoria …”

Thanks for the information, Max. Always glad to get more clarification!

If you’d like to read more about Orange, here’s a good start from the Vignerons of the region: http://www.winesoforange.com.au/

And to read more about Henty, here’s a start from the Wine Diva website: http://www.winediva.com.au/regions/henty.asp

***

Thank you to Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis for hosting me. Thank you to Alex Byrne. Thank you to David Fesq. I very much enjoyed my time at Lethbridge and appreciate the generosity you showed. Thank you.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

2

Victorian Syrah and Shiraz

We were barrel tasting through the recent Lethbridge vintage and arrived at the 2012 Indra Shiraz. The wine was juicy and spiced filling my head with purple and blue notes, and a long bloody iron clenched finish. Suddenly my entire body was so full of energy I could barely contain it. This wine was exciting and unexpected. I was thrilled by surprise. We went on to taste multiple vintages going back to their first.

Cracked Basalt Soils on the Indra Block

the cracked basalt soils of the Indra Block, Lethbridge

Indra grows from the hard luck soils of Geelong, a cool climate area harvested last of the mainland regions. Pushed into cracked black basalt soils onto limestone, the vines at Lethbridge struggle for what they need, producing structure with serious, though not harsh tannin traction. The Indra Shiraz is impressive, a red with a French sensibility, carrying Australian spice, and a slightly bigger frame. It needs time in bottle to be appreciated, but gives lean lines, multidimensional flavors, and depth.

One of the highlights of my trip through Victoria was discovering I could love the Shiraz and Syrah coming out of that province. The poor history of exposure to Australian stereotype in the United States had left me skeptical. Still, knowing the previously apparent monolith of California wine is actually quite varied, I was ready to be surprised by Victoria too.

To the North of Geelong, Great Western offers a more Continental climate giving wines a rounder feel to flavors, but with still cool nights the acidity stays vibrant for juiciness.

Best's Nursery Block

part of the 1866 Nursery Block, Best’s Great Western

Best’s Great Western grows some of the oldest vines in the world. Their nursery block, planted in 1866, is still bottled as a field blend wine that is both strange and wonderful to drink. In the late 1800s, the Best’s team recognized their Shiraz was doing well in the climate and so a Shiraz-only vineyard was established. It is still used to produce the Bin 0 Shiraz bottling, a rich flavored, textural wine, with melt away tannin, and a focus on cocoa, tobacco, and forest floor. Their Bin 1, from newer vines, carries a family resemblance to Bin 0 with a younger, juicier feel. Both give a texture that seems native to the wines of the area–tannins with traction and presence that melts away for a long lingering finish.

Through Victoria, both Syrah and Shiraz are used on wine labels to designate that grape’s varietal-specific wine. There is no regulation on which is used when, but generally speaking Syrah designates a lighter style for the grape.

Jumping to the Yarra Valley two Syrah labels stood out.

Tom and Sally Belford, and kids, Bobar Wine

the Belfords, Bobar Wines

Our first visit in the Yarra was with the Belford family, where we were able to taste each vintage of their young label. Together, Tom and Sally Belford produce Bobar Wines, an ultra light, fully carbonic Syrah with the weight of Poulsard, the aromatic lift of Fleurie, and the Australian spice of Shiraz. It’s refreshing, and light with just the kiss of strangeness to make it a wine geek’s dream. That said, later on the trip a winemaker we met confessed to buying a case of Bobar before camping trips because “you can drink it with anything.”

Gary Mills, Jamsheed Wine

Gary Mills, Jamsheed Wines

Gary Mills, of Jamsheed Wines, devotes himself to Syrah from fruit sourced all over Victoria, made whole cluster to celebrate the earthy elements given by stem inclusion. Having worked with Paul Draper at Ridge Monte Bello for several years, Mills credits Draper for being the inspiration behind Mills’ views of “real wine.” The 2011 Jamsheed Syrah’s have a combined strength and focus that make them both desirable and heady. I wanted more of these wines. From barrel the 2012s are intensely vibrant and rich, most already about ready to drink. But the Great Western barrel (full of those melt-away tannins) drinks like a horse still bucking and sweaty after being caught–no brett, just an animal intensity wrestling its way from the barrel, still almost too big to handle. I can’t wait to see how its transformed before release.

***

Thank you to Mike Bennie, Tom and Sally Belford, Gary Mills, Ray Nadeson, Maree Collis, Alex Bryne, David Fesq, Jonathan Mogg.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.