Australia

1

The Masters of Wine Residential Seminar: Australia

Australian Wine

The Annual Masters of Wine Residential Seminar has been taking place this week in San Francisco. The residential seminar serves as the yearly in-person training and educational intensive for the first and second year MW students, as well as the opportunity to spend time with a whole bunch of MWs. People travel from all over the world to attend.

This weekend Mark Davidson led an in-depth seminar on Australian wine for the group. He serves as the Education Director for Wine Australia, the general marketing board for wine from across the Australian continent, as well as part of the MW program. Mark and the MW program were kind enough to invite me to attend the seminar and following walk-around tasting.

The initial seminar included ten wines selected to represent first the classics of Australian wine followed by still evolving newer styles. A walk-around tasting of at least fifty other excellent examples was then available.

Australian Wine: History, Evolution, Revolution

While I was familiar with most of the producers presented in the ten-wine seminar, having current vintages and the ten together was an exciting opportunity. The tasting showed how special wines from Australia can be carrying remarkable life in the glass.

Following are notes on the ten wines.

FLIGHT 1: History

Brokenwood Oakey Creek Semillon 2009, Hunter Valley, New South Wales 11% $32

A classic of Australian wine, Hunter Valley Semillon has no counterpart in the world. Even Semillon from elsewhere in Australia carries a distinctly different expression than the wines of Hunter Valley. It also offers a conundrum of expectation: though the region includes high temperatures, the wines consistently offer intense freshness, and tenacious acidity. 

Fresh, invigorating aromatics followed by a juicy and focused palate of mouthwatering acidity. Notes of Meyer lemon, honeysuckle and just a kiss of creme brûlée carry through an ultra long textural finish. Bone dry and delicious.

* Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 2010, Eden Valley, South Australia 12.5% $32.99

Australian Riesling is decidedly dry in style. It is the rare exception that includes enough residual sugar to bump into the off-dry category. Unlike the classics of Germany, producers of the Australian wine are emphatically against the idea that their wines include petrol notes and have done extensive viticultural and cellar research to try and insure against the characteristic. 

Fresh, succulent, and focused aromatics. A palate of mouthwatering acidity tumbled through with chalk, quartz, stones and subtle, textural flavor. Notes of honeysuckle, chalky-white peach and a hint of lime. Pretty, delicious, and will age a very long time.

One of the stand-out wines of the tasting for me – I love the freshness and texture of The Contours. 

* Cirillo 1850 Grenache 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia 13.8% $84.99

Growing what have been documented as the oldest Grenache vines in the world, the red grape is one of the under-regarded classics of Australian wine. From the best producers, Australia’s old vine sites yield concentration, earthy spice, and loads of mouthwatering acidity. South Australia offers a sense of completeness from this grape without blending. 

Perfumed and elegant with melting tannin, mouthwatering acidity, and a silky mouthfeel. Vibrant and energizing. Notes of bramble, savory mixed fruit, and earthy underbrush, this wine continued to evolve giving ever more delicious flavors in the glass. Delicious with a long, mouth-quencing finish.

One of the stand-out wines of the tasting for me – I kept wanting to go back to drink this wine. 

Yalumba The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia 14% $54.99

Known for its terra rossa soils, Coonawarra brings that red earth patina to the flavors of its reds alongside a tendency for supple tannins. The region is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon. Its maritime climate offers just enough warmth to soften its tannins and the seaside freshness to keep a wash of acidity on the palate. 

Perfumed and spiced aromatics with a zesty palate carrying an even density of fruit and just a whiff of what Mark describes as “eucalyptus honey” (a pleasant lift in the wine). Savory mixed fruit braid with firmness of tannin with a pleasing backbone of acidity.

Kaesler Old Bastard Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia 14.5% $190

Barossa Valley has been documented with the oldest Shiraz vines on the planet, as well as some of the oldest soils. Shiraz is a classic of the region, historically vinified with a distinctive spice of American oak, in recent decades producers have shifted to the sweetness of French. 

Sweet-spiced with light toast accents throughout, offering a long mouthwatering line and lightly drying tannin. Notes of vibrant mixed fruit and a perfume lift showcasing the smoothness of 35% new French oak.

FLIGHT 2: Evolution & Revolution

** BK Swaby Chardonnay 2013, Adelaide Hills, South Australia 12.5% $55

The Swaby Chardonnay was the stand-out wine of the tasting for me.

Impressive, nuanced, and delicious. BK strikes an impressive balance of freshness tempered by noble sulfide, of gunflint cut through giving fruit. It is somehow almost precious while also sinewed. This wine opens nicely with air carrying lots of life in the glass and a kiss of spice so well integrated you could almost miss it. Best of all, it is just truly nice to drink.

Moorooduc Estate McIntyre Pinot Noir 2012 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria 14% $60

Aromatic and fine-boned, delicate and zesty. Fresh, floral aromatics of rose petal and rose cream carry into the palate with notes of savory, zesty underbrush. Energizing and fresh with supple tannin and mouthfeel. Lots of length.

Jaume Like Raindrops Grenache 2014, McLaren Vale, South Australia 14.2% $50

Unexpected and fresh. Snappy red fruit cloak a beast of savory spice. Wildly aromatic, juicy, fresh, and quaffable. Charming and unconventional. Delicious.

Luke Lambert Syrah 2012, Yarra Valley, Victoria 13.5% $55

Fresh fruit and perfumed accents – juicy blackberries just cut from the bush and served alongside peppery bacon. Long mouthwatering finish and supple tannin.

Grosset Gaia 2013, Clare Valley, South Australia 13.9% $79

Aromatics of fresh-peeled white birch bark and crushed leaves tumble into a velvety mouthfeel and a long, lean palate. Elegant while edgy and energizing. Fresh with a lightly drying finish and just a hint of caramel.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

For Love of Pinot Meunier

Last year I celebrated 12 Days of Christmas by enjoying a different 100% Pinot Meunier every day for 12 days. It was wonderful. Pinot Meunier is the grape that made me irretrievably fall in love with wine. Burgundy and Tuscan Sangiovese were the two wines that had made me start paying attention to wine, but it was Pinot Meunier that ruined me for life.

It’s no small thing that Pinot Meunier won my heart. Though it is widely planted through Champagne, it is actually quite uncommon to find a 100% Pinot Meunier bottling anywhere sparkling or still. So for me to happen upon a still red Pinot Meunier by Eyrie Vineyards rather accidentally early in my wine education is surprising.

Though claims have long been made that the variety doesn’t age, the truth is Pinot Meunier can age wonderfully. I’ve been lucky enough to taste examples of still red Pinot Meunier from as far back as the 1970s that not only held up but developed a sultry earthiness in that delicate frame I couldn’t get enough of.

There has also often been talk of the variety lacking finesse for sparkling wines but, again, with the right vintners that couldn’t be further from the truth. My very favorite examples have been extra brut or no dosage. The fleshiness of the grape seems to do well without added sugar. That said, there are some delicious examples of brut sparkling Pinot Meunier as well. Egly Ouriet brut “Les Vigney des Vrigny” was the first sparkling example I ever tasted years ago and it’s definitely recommended.

Visions from Instagram

Over on Instagram I share photos with explanatory captions when I’m on wine trips or working on detailed projects, like the 12 Days of Pinot Meunier. With the wine trips especially the collection of photos from a particular wine region tend to go fairly in depth and all together share the story of a region.

I’ve been asked by several of my readers if I’d be willing to gather some of these photo sets from Instagram and share them here so that the information is more readily accessible. Over the next several months in the New Year, then, I’ll be posting some of those regional collections here alongside more in-depth features on producers from those regions.

Several people also asked if I’d please share my holiday with Pinot Meunier from Instagram here. With that in mind, here is the collection captured from Instagram in screen shots. Thank you for asking, and enjoy!

Happy Holidays!

12 Days of Pinot Meunier

Day 1: The Eyrie Vineyards 1996 Pinot Meunier

1996 Eyrie Pinot Meunier

A very special bottle I’ve been saving. Eyrie Vineyards 1996 Pinot Meunier. Simultaneously gentle + energizing. Earthy red fruit with wonderful acidity + a long silvery finish. Gains more + more life the longer it’s open. Happiest of holidays!

Day 2: Jerome Prevost La Closerie Les Beguines (2009)

Les Closerie

Prevost La Closeries Les Beguines. YES YES YES. Some wines remind you what a complete privilege it is to receive. So excited, grateful + INTO IT. … Beautiful, chiseled stone fruit aromatics with a giving while finessed palate. The extra-brut brilliantly nips the edges of an otherwise generous palate washing wine. Ecstatic acidity, again, beautifully housed in earthy fruit and a fleshy finessed texture, with a devastatingly long finish. 

Day 3: Lelarge Pugeot Les Meuniers de Clemence (2010)

Meuniers de Clemence

The first all Pinot Meunier bottling from the Lelarge family. Lelarge-Pugeot Les Muniers de Clemence, 2010. Almond leaf + pear on the nose carrying forward alongside hints of lime + cherry on the palate with a bit of ruddiness + lots of mouthwatering acidity moving into an ultra long finish. Shows the ruddiness of clay with the amplitude of chalk. Thanks for your help, Mr Michael Storyteller Alberty. 

Day 4: Breech et Fils Vallée de la Marne (2009)

Bereche et Fils

Bereche et Fils Valle de la Marne, 2009 vintage. Beautifully delicate almond nose with hints of pear carries forward into super mouthwatering, screaming fresh acidity with a giving mid palate + decades of length. Warms into further breadth with still loads of precision. Thank you, Ambonnay Bar, for helping me locate this wine. 

Day 5: Chartogne-Taillet Les Barres (2009)

Chartogne Taillet

Chartogne-Taillet Les Barres, 2009 – ungrafted old vines, small older barrels, 60 months on lees. Aromatics of dried pear, leaf + red cherry pit carry forward into the palate alongside toasted almond and rolling acidity with a finish till tomorrow. Nice textural presence + a classic PM fleshiness. Warms into greater breadth + almond. (Don’t tell but I’m about to drink it with instant ramen. Whoo! It’s the holidays!) Thank you to Jesse Salazar + Gabriel Clary for helping me track this down.

Day 6: Best’s Great Western 2012 Old Vine Pinot Meunier

Best's Great Western

Best’s Great Western 2012 Old Vine. Some of the oldest Pinot Meunier vines on the planet. Established in 1867 + still producing. Concentrated rhubarb + red berry earthiness with bright, balanced acidity + saline mouth watering length. Wants lots of air. Great open into day 2. (Didn’t last past day 2.)

Day 7: Christophe Mignon 2008 Brut Nature 

Mignon

Christophe Mignon 2008 Brut Nature. Biodynamic 5th generation grower-producer specializing in Pinot Meunier. Subtle aromatics of bitter almond with delicate, bitter almond + almond paste palate, loads of structure + length. 

Day 8: Teutonic 2013 Borgo Pass Vineyard

Teutonic

Teutonic 2013 Borgo Pass Vineyard (named for the gateway to Castle Dracula, Romania). Southern point of Willamette Valley, as far West as you can get in Willamette Valley + as cool, to the edge of ripening. 30-year old vines. Smells of cherry blossom + lilac cream. Pin tight focus, almost as light as rosé, singing acidity, palate of ferric red fruit, wolf’s hair + Veronica Lake in a silk dress. Makes me wanna wiggle till I stand up to dance. Thx to Mr Alberty for helping me secure a bottle.

Day 9: Vineland 2011 Pinot Meunier

Vineland

Vineland 2011 from Niagra Escarpment, Ontario, Canada. Grown in the Great Lakes cooling effect with good drainage. All about spice, red fruit + gulpability this wine comes a little chunky + weighty for the subtlety the grape can offer. Still, a fun find out of Canada + a value. 

Day 10: Darting 2012 Pinot Meunier Trocken; Heitlinger 2009 Blanc de Noir Brut 

German Sparkling and Still

German bifocal-sparkling + still. Heitlinger Sekt Blanc de Noir 2009. Almond + cherry blossom + hints of melon aromatics followed by ultra tight palate + giving length. Darting 2012 dry from Pfalz. Fresh picked cherries on a hot day + served with toast with juicier all warm red cherry palate. Savory mineral accents + finish.

Day 11: René Geoffroy 2008 Cumières Rouge Coteaux Champenois. 

Coteaux Champenoise

Rowr! Hello, lover. René Geoffroy 2008 Cumières Rouge Coteaux Champenois. Delicate aromatics of chalky cherry blossom + musk. A tiger on the palate – all enthralling striped complexity, muscled minerality, mouthwatering acidity + endless length. Flashes of red fruit framed in lean chalky sweat minerality.

Day 12: Lahore Freres Blanc de Noirs 2009 + Rosé de Saignée w Eyrie 2012 Pinot Meunier
Laherte Freres

Laherte Freres Blanc de Noirs 2009, Rosé de Saignée + Eyrie Vineyards 2012 red. Brilliantly paired with first sushi, then charcuterie + cheeses, then pork loin, potatoes + brown basmati rice. Yum (+ thank you). 

To follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hawk_wakawaka/

I also received numerous requests to get Hawk Wakawaka t-shirts back in stock over at my shop. So, Pho t-shirts and Pinot Noir t-shirts are now both available in a range of sizes, as are my biodynamics posters and Corison 25-yr Vertical art prints. Here’s the link: https://www.etsy.com/shop/HawkWakawaka

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

1

Langmeil The Freedom 1843 Shiraz

Langmeil The Freedom 1843 Vertical Tasting

click on image to enlarge

The world’s oldest still-producing Shiraz vineyard, The Freedom 1843, grows in Barossa near the North Para River. Planted in 1843, with a bit added in 1886, the vines root into alluvial loam and red clay over limestone mixed through with ironstone. Today, 3.5 acres remain of the site.

The old vines survive today thanks to the attention of the Lindner family of Langmeil winery who purchased and resuscitated the site in the mid-1990s. Entirely dry farmed, with deep roots, the vines naturally produce fruit with concentration, firm while supple tannin and mouthwatering acidity.

Langmeil winemakers, Paul Lindner and Tyson Bitter choose to take a hands on, rather minimalist approach to producing wine from The Freedom 1843 vineyard. As such, they also only bottle it as a vineyard designate wine in good vintages (the first bottled in 1997) in order to preserve a sense of site integrity. With only 3.5 acres of the old vines remaining, when produced The Freedom 1843 remains a small production bottling.

The Freedom 1843 wine is made to age, ideally kept in bottle for several years before opening.

Recently I was able to enjoy a four vintage vertical of The Freedom 1843 Shiraz (unfortunately, the 2010 was corked). Following are notes on the four vintages, as illustrated above.

The Freedom 1843 – generally kept 24 months in all-French oak (of varying sizes) before bottling then kept around two years in bottle before release.

2002 – Delicious and sophisticated with nice movement through the palate, the 2002 offers richness housed in a supple mouthfeel with nice focus and a good frame. There is lovely poise here – a strong wine with the balance to stand on point. Showing notes of black and red fruit nose to finish with accents of spiced leather and tobacco leaf, and a band of cedar throughout. The 2002 carries slightly dry fruit currently. Drink soon.

2004 – Showing nuance and complexity with a depth of concentration, the 2004 offers the combination of poise in richness possible from old vines. Offering savory elements throughout a body of dark, earthy fruit and a through-line of cedar, this wine carries notes of tobacco and mint with chocolate and pepper through the finish. Rich and supple with firm tannin and an ultra long finish.

2006 – With a sense of freshness and a stimulating mineral element of wet river rock rolled through saline, the 2006 offers nuance in the midst of richness. The 2004 revels in dark tones – dark while fresh, juicy fruit, deep forest accents, and deep bass notes – carried by mouth clenching acidity through an ultra long finish.

2012 – Under screwcap. Full of energy, pretty and poised, the 2012 brings freshness and exotic perfume to a bright palate of red fruit. With notes of mixed blossom, cedar and a wash of wet river rocks, the 2012 looks to develop its richness in the bottle. This is a vintage meant to age with a nice structural focus and mouthwatering acidity.

***

Thank you to Penelope Goodsall.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

0

Torbreck RunRig: An icon of the Barossa Valley

Australia‘s Barossa Valley rose to prominence in the mid 1990s. Primarily known for its Shiraz, the region was celebrated for a combination of flavor concentration, supple tannin and mouthwatering acidity. Robert Parker‘s attention on the wines of the region ushered in a new era for the Barossa complete with a rush of new plantings and the advent of exports to the United States. The changes included too the possibility for more hands on attention to wine quality and a rise of boutique level wine producers and iconic wines.

Iconic among them stands Torbreck‘s flagship wine, the RunRig.

Like many of the Barossa’s top wines, the RunRig is an assemblage, blending from multiple sites across the Valley. Torbreck roots its winemaking primarily in the assemblage approach, offering only four single vineyard wines, with the belief that blending across microclimates allows them to showcase the best of the Barossa Valley through the production of more complete wines. In the case of the four single vineyard wines — The Descendent; The Laird (delicious); The Pict (my favorite); and Les Amis — the Torbreck team found that completeness in the site itself.

With the goal of showcasing the range of the Barossa Valley while exploring how we experience a sense of place in assemblage style wines, Torbreck decided to offer RunRig components’ tastings for the first time with their 2012 vintage. The tasting included the 2012 RunRig itself alongside six vineyard specific wines included in the final RunRig blend but also bottled in small quantities on their own only for the components’ tasting.

Torbreck RunRig Components Tasting

Torbreck 2012 RunRig Components Tasting

click on image to enlarge

The Barossa Valley as a region stands similar in size to the Napa Valley, with 11 subregions within regarded each as a unique microclimate. Sites from six of those microclimates are brought together to produce the RunRig assemblage.

Torbreck bottles RunRig only in the best of vintages, wishing to preserve its role as their flagship wine in terms of quality as well as prominence. In the year 2000, for example, the weather proved both too hot and too cold for even ripening; 2008, too hot; 2011 too wet. 2012, however, was regarded as a normal vintage in terms of temperatures with a dry growing season coming after a wealth of rain before it. The conditions, then, proved an advantage with vines having ample water while fruit remained relatively disease free.

The 2012 RunRig includes a blend of six vineyard sites each grown in a different microclimate of the Barossa Valley, as well as 2% Viognier from the 2014 vintage to lift the aromatics and stabilize the color. It spent 13 months in 55% new French oak. Following are descriptions on the wine and its individual components (named by microclimate), as illustrated in the drawing above.

RunRig – With notes of dark fruit carried by a bright lift and hints of dried blossom, the RunRig offers accents of molasses, sweet baking spice and a nip of ruby red grapefruit. This is a young wine enveloped by structure and a bit of baby fat. The 2012 offers supple tannin with mouthwatering acidity, a long finish and the stuffing to age.

The Components:

Lyndoch – Lyndoch’s Hillside Vineyard serves as 35-40% of the RunRig blend. Originally planted in the 1890s, the site grows from rich red clay over limestone mixed through with ironstone and quartz. Torbreck has been shifting the site to biodynamic farming.

Offering concentrated red and black fruit with a floral lift, the Lyndoch carries fine while dense tannin and high tone acidity with drive. Of the components, the Lyndoch seems the most complete on its own and could serve as an individually bottled wine.

Rowland Flat – The Phillipou Vineyard in Rowland Flat composes 15% of the RunRig blend. Planted in the late 1800s, the site gently slopes, grown in sand over yellow clay.

With herbal accents and a mix of cigar, smoke, and salt the Rowland Flat carries concentrated and lush black fruit and molasses. This component is all about concentration, with less backbone than the Lyndoch while still showing ample length.

Seppeltsfield – The Renshaw Vineyard in Seppelsfield offers the youngest vine component of RunRig carrying 10% of the final blend. With its natural richness and concentration, the Seppeltsfield fruit is housed entirely in new French oak. Planted in the 1960s, the Renshaw soils are red clay loam over sandstone with a sprinkle of ironstone mixed through.

With the darkest, richest notes of the components, the Seppeltsfield offers notes of coffee, blackened toast, bloody meat and olive brine accented through by sweet spice. This wine includes ample tannin and an ultra long finish.

Greenock – Planted in the 1860s, the Materne Vineyard of Greenock proves the oldest vineyard component of the RunRig. It is also one of the highest altitude sites of the components. The Materne soils are a shallow, sandy loam over yellow clay. RunRig includes 8-9% of the Greenock.

Carrying black fruit and notes of squid ink with graphite, the Greenock carriess vibrant intensity with fruit sweetness, dense tannin and a lot of persistence.

Moppa – The Moppa Vineyard was one of Torbreck’s first at its start in the mid-1990s. It was also one of the first selected to be part of the RunRig blend. Planted at the start of the 1900s, Moppa is grown in sandy loam over terrarossa red earth with bands of ironstone.

Full of sweet, dark fruit, terra-cotta dustiness, and iron accents, the Moppa includes lots of concentration with powdery, dense tannin, and tons of mouth stimulation. The acidity here is moderate but a mineral-sapidity throughout waters the palate into a medium-long finish.

Ebenezer – The Dimchurch Vineyard of Ebenezer composes 25% of the final blend and is the most Northerly of Torbreck’s sites. Planted at the start of the 1900s, the Dimchurch site grows in red and brown earth over dark red clays with a layer of chalky limestone.

With sweet fruit in a mix of frozen raspberries and fig, the Ebenezer includes salty brine accents and pepper hints throughout its robust and spicy frame. There is a lot of complexity to this component with a touch of caramel and ruby red grapefruit accents on strong tannin with good density.

***

With thanks to Dan Fredman.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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.