Tag syrah-shiraz

Tasting South Australia: 11 Wines of the Region

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.

A Life in Wine: Stephen Lagier and Carole Meredith of Lagier-Meredith Wines

Visiting Lagier-Meredith: Driving to the top of Mt. Veeder

Carole and Stephen

Carole Meredith and Stephen Lagier at their home on top of Mt Veeder

It’s mid-December on a clouded day, the first of several visits to Lagier-Meredith Vineyards over a couple of months. At the top of Mt Veeder, the fog has shielded our view from the other side of the valley. We can still make out the general direction towards the house in which Robert Mondavi once lived, and the nearby (rather flat) peak of Mt Veeder itself, but the Bay, and mountains in every direction hide behind the cold weather. I’ve driven to the house of Stephen Lagier and Carole Meredith after getting the guts to write and ask for an interview a couple weeks before.

The story of Lagier-Meredith fascinates me for multiple reasons. The pair were among the very first to plant Syrah in Napa Valley at a time it was even more defined by Cabernet Sauvignon. When they purchased the land that would become their home and vineyard, Mt Veeder was not yet an appellation (the area still today not burgeoning with development as the creased and rolling tree covered mountain AVA makes too much growth difficult). Before realizing they had fruit good enough to sell wine from they were a two career couple.

Stephen Lagier made wine for Robert Mondavi, after first managing the company’s lab. But prior to that he’d also helped perform research at UC Davis on the chemical effects of vineyard practices before significant knowledge was to be had on the subject. Carole Meredith’s career at the same university focused on the genetic relationships between grape types, leading to the landmark discovery that Cabernet Sauvignon was the off-spring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, information now almost taken for granted.

Talking with Lagier and Meredith

Lagier-Meredith art

art display outside the entrance to Lagier’s and Meredith’s home–Stephen made the frogs, Carole the telephone

Talking with the twosome proves both entertaining and insightful. The couple enjoy not only bragging about each other’s successes, but sharing in the fun of how they met.

In Fall 1980, both began work at UC Davis in the Viticulture and Oenology department. Lagier had done his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and recognized most graduate students spent their study years broke, often also going into debt. Unwilling to follow suit, he started his Master’s degree in Winemaking (before the program shifted to a single Viticulture and Oenology Master’s degree) with a full-time job. Over five years, Lagier ran the research program for a professor doing chemical analysis of the effects of training vines on grape composition. At the same time, Lagier purchased his own home, then rented rooms out to other students to help with expenses.

The same Fall brought Meredith to the University as a Professor. She’d applied her PhD in Genetics in the private sector, until realizing she didn’t like having a daily boss. At the time Davis accepted Meredith’s application, she was actually a finalist in two different positions in plant genetics–lettuce and grapes. There had also been a third position in beans Meredith didn’t get. The time period marked the start of retirement for men that had returned from World War II, completed advanced science training, and then effectively reshaped American education. Meredith was hired as the start of a new generation of educators. With multiple plants up for research, the hiring committees negotiated to decide who would get which candidate, thus securing Meredith’s future in genetic research history.

Her beginning with the parentage of Cabernet was rooted in first developing the technology and toolkit to do so. She fostered the work of brilliant research students that helped solve how to apply insights from the use of DNA markers in human genetics to grape vines. But she also helped establish a multi-national genetics cooperative through which researchers from all over the world pooled their findings on those same DNA markers in grape vines. Doing so allowed an explosion in both identifying individual grapes genetic identity, and then afterwards the relationships between grape types.

Discussion of their UC Davis years quickly leads to the two of them smiling, telling me about how they met. Meredith was often working weekends to get ahead on some of the lab projects she had operating, and Lagier would be in his office having negotiated to switch his work day schedule so he could downhill ski during the week. Those days the mountain was quieter. He’d often come in showing signs of sun from the slopes, which gave the pair reason to talk. As Meredith explained, she wanted to have fun and go skiing too. So, Lagier invited her to join a group that often went downhilling together. Then, one outing, it turned out the two of them were the only ones able to go. “We had to spend the whole day together,” Meredith laughs. “I wanted to have fun, and Stephen is fun.”

Lagier smiles. “I crack Carole up everyday. I feel like it’s my job.”

Lagier-Meredith's young Mondeuse Vineyards

looking into the young Mondeuse vineyard at Lagier-Meredith

Lagier’s support of Meredith isn’t limited to his good humor, however. Meredith and I take at least an hour to talk through the work she accomplished in genetic relationships–how she helped find the parentage of Syrah (sire: Dureza, mother: Mondeuse Blanc; thus leading to Lagier-Meredith planting Mondeuse Noir, “Syrah’s crazy uncle,” as the couple call it), how she helped successfully find the original vine and homeland of America’s pride, Zinfandel (it’s the Croatian variety Crljenak Kaštelanski). But when Lagier comes back inside from clearing a tree that’s collapsed from a winter storm, he brings up an accomplishment Meredith hasn’t discussed yet. “Did she tell you about her paper in SCIENCE?”

“We were talking about ZInfandel.” Meredith responds. The Zinfandel discovery was significant for how it brought together people in the United States, in Italy (Primitivo is also of the same original grape vine), with researchers in Crotia. But also because the discovery that Zinfandel comes from the motherland of Croatia actually helped improve tourism to the region, showing that wines and their history from there could deserve respect for higher quality than previously expected internationally. The Zinfandel discovery also stands as significant, however, because it was Meredith’s final large project before retiring to focus on the Lagier-Meredith wine label.

The grape Zinfandel had long been suspected of having International origins. It’s a plant with visible characteristics unlike those native to North America, so it must have been brought in from elsewhere. But at the same time it’s wine history so shaped California it had become the adopted champion of a country’s pride. After completing the research that led to Zinfandel’s proper naming, Meredith had also reached the early cutoff for potential retirement. Ready to shift to their wine label, she stopped her commute from Mt Veeder to Davis, making Crjenak Kaštelanski her genetic’s career swan song, effectively leaving at the top of her genetics game.

Lagier agrees the Zinfandel discovery was significant, but it’s the paper in SCIENCE he wants to make sure I know before we finish our first interview. Meredith’s work on grape relationships led to the discovery that Pinot Noir and Goulaise Blanc together parent at least 16 grape varieties, including Chardonnay, Aligote, Gamay, and Melon. The conclusion was celebrated not only because of its scientific importance, but also because with such popular varieties considered, the discovery becomes relevant beyond the walls of science to other disciplines as well. Lagier looks at me directly and explains, “It was one of the proudest moments for me that my wife got a paper in that magazine. It’s like the Grand Slam of science. It brought tears to my eyes.” Doing a little bit of research, it appears Meredith is the only professor in the history of Davis’s Viticulture & Oenology program to have gotten a paper in the prestigious magazine.

The Beginning of a Wine Label

They make wine and olives

By Meredith’s retirement, Lagier was already working full-time on their label, having retired from Mondavi in 1999. His time at the company was significant, as he managed the Mondavi winery lab, established their first program to track and determine projected fruit availability from the vineyards, and then served as one of the Mondavi Coastal brand winemakers.

Though Lagier and Meredith had intended all along to plant vines on their hilltop, it took years before they realized they could turn that fruit into a bonded winery. Upon purchasing the property, it had to be thoroughly cleaned and cleared to rid the soils of Oak root fungus that would impact Vitis Vinifera. Once the seven years to accomplish that were up, the twosome placed their first vines in 1994. The year before, one of Meredith’s students, Jean-Louis Chave, the 15th, of Hermitage fame, had agreed the property would be perfect for planting Syrah as “Syrah loves a view.”

The grape was unheard of in Napa Valley at the time, with the pinnacles of the industry almost completely focused on the success of Cabernet Sauvignon. But the pair love Rhone wine and decided to plant what suited the slope and cooler climate of the site, as well as their palate interest. 1996 was their first press. By 1998 friends were commenting enthusiastically on the quality of wine, and the couple realized it was good enough they could consider selling it publicly. In 2000 they released it, inciting quick response that would herald them as one of the first labels in the region to showcase a marriage of French Aesthetic with California fruit.

I ask Lagier about this critical history of their wine, and if they’d intended to make wines that allude to the Northern Rhone. “There are hints of a Northern Rhone character in some of our vintages.” he responds. “To say more than that is just complete speculation.” He continues. “That was not our goal. Our goal was to reduce our influence on the wine, to capture the character of the fruit from here and get it into bottle. We’re just pleased this place makes this wine, and people enjoy it, which allows us to make a living. So pleased.” He pauses, then continues. “I do enjoy the hell out of the wine. Both of us feel incredibly blessed we found this land, and managed to pull this off.”

***
Thank you to Stephen Lagier and Carole Meredith for taking so much time to meet with me. I have plenty more moose meat whenever you’re ready.

***

To read more on Zinfandel, Carole’s work on its genetic history, and Lagier-Meredith’s foray into making it, read the recent article by Jon Bonné: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/thirst/article/History-underscores-Zinfandel-s-new-tack-4321826.php#page-4

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

Why We Should All Be Drinking Jamsheed

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.

Bringing Victoria to California (It’s a little disorienting)

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.

Return to Great Western: Visiting Best’s Historic Vineyards

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, Geelong, Victoria

 

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.

Enjoying Victorian Syrah and Shiraz: Lethbridge, Best’s, Bobar, and Jamsheed

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.

 

Santa Barbara Wine Country 5: Photos from Day 4

Santa Barbara Wine Country

Goodland Wines

Goodland Wines

unreleased Goodland Wines portfolio

Ballard Canyon

looking into Ballard Canyon AVA

Ruben Solorzano

Ruban Solorzano, Vineyard Manager, Goodland Wines partner

Limestone Soils, Harrison Clark Vineyard

Ballard Canyon Limestone Soils

Matt Dees

Matt Dees, Winemaker, Goodland Wines partner

Chris Snowden

Chris Snowden, Goodland Wines partner

Harrison Clark Vineyard

Harrison Clark Vineyard Syrah, Ballard Canyon AVA

Matt, Chris, Ruben, long term friends

Star Lane Vineyards & Wines, and Dierberg Wines

Star Lane Winery

Star Lane Winery, Happy Canyon AVA

1500 ft elevation Cabernet Vineyard, Happy Canyon

Star Lane Vineyard, 1500 ft elevation Cabernet Sauvignon

Andy Alba

Andy Alba, Winemaker Star Lane & Dierberg Winemaker

Star Lane Vineyards, looking into Happy Canyon

Looking over Star Lane Vineyards, the oldest Vineyards in Happy Canyon; Looking into Happy Canyon AVA from 1500 ft

Gravity Feed Winery, Star Lane

 

Star Lane Winery Gravity Flow Winery

Star Lane Wines

Star Lane Wines

Dierberg Wines

Dierberg Wines

Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir Cluster (full size, not a wing)

Sta Rita Hills high elevation Pinot Noir cluster (photo by Andy Alba): actual cluster size (not a wing)

Rusack Vineyards & Wines

Rusack Vineyard

Rusack Vineyard, Ballard Canyon AVA

Rusack Vineyards, Ballard Canyon

Looking into Ballard Canyon AVA, Rusack Vineyard

Rusack Winery

Rusack Winery

Rusack Wines

Rusack Wines

Rusack Wines, Catalina Vineyard Project

Rusack Wines Santa Catalina Island Vineyard Project

Terroir Selections, and Sandhi Wines

Terroir Selections Wines

Terroir Selections Wines by the glass, The Watering Hole Tasting Room

Sandhi Wines

Sandhi Wines

***

Thank you to Matt Dees, Chris Snowden, and Ruben Solorzano.

Thank you to Andy Alba, Sarah Hunt, and Jim Dierberg.

Thank you to Steve Gerbac.

Thank you to Nat Gunter.

Thank you to Sao Anash, and Lacey Fussel.

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

Visiting Gustafson Winery, Dry Creek Valley AVA, 1800 feet elevation

Gustafson Family Vineyards, Overlooking Dry Creek Valley from 1800 feet

Having spent time regularly visiting Sea Ranch, on the coast West of Healdsburg, Dan Gustafson began looking for property in the Dry Creek Valley area. He wanted to grow grapes. Having raised his kids on a working cattle ranch, in the midwest, he was used to work outside and was ready to invest long term in Sonoma County. Early in life he’d worked in restaurants, gaining exposure to food and wine. During the same period, he developed a taste for California wine because, he says, it was what he could afford at the time.

The point on the Mountain Range is St. Helena, photo taken looking East from the Gustafson house, located on the West side of Dry Creek Valley on Skaggs Spring Road, near Lake Sonoma

In the midst of a trip out to Sea Ranch, Dan Gustafson drove by a property on Skaggs Spring Road with a For Sale sign. He jumped the fence to look at it, and discovered a wealth of Madrone trees throughout. Viticultural folk knowledge says that where Madones grow, vines will too–they both need to keep their feet dry. The property also already had several clearings throughout that meant no dry grading was needed to start building, and clearing wasn’t required to plant vines.

So, Gustafson moved an Airstream to the top of the property to live in while he planted vines and started construction on the winery. In 2004, the Heritage Tree Block was planted with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah. Over time what was found was the site did best for Petite Sirah, and so that became the bulk of the property’s focus.

In 2006, construction on the winery began, close to the house site, with a barrel cellar built beneath. The layout arose naturally from the demands of the ground itself–it turned out to install a proper foundation, the crew had to dig 18 feet down to bedrock. The space between the foundation and the house floor, then, built into the hillside, became the winery’s barrel storage.

The reality of planting an entirely new vineyard site rests in a process of learning the soils. The vineyard manager and winemaker, Emmett Reed, likes to say the vineyard is young and still learning itself.

The site located at 1800 feet elevation on the Northwest side of Dry Creek Valley has no vineyard planted neighbors. As a result, there is no blueprint for what does best in the area, nor neighbors to ask for advice (there are other vineyards further up the road, but in uniquely different slope, aspect, etc than Gustafson Family Vineyard).

With vintage variation as well, Gustafson wine is also, in some ways, getting to know itself. Reed is happy with how the 2012 harvest has gone, and with how the quality has progressed through the last several vintages (including their weather challenges).

looking Southeast down Dry Creek Valley

The Gustafson site has 3 natural springs, and a wealth of both Redwood and Madrone. The winery is bonded for 4000 cases, and makes approximately 3400 currently. Much of the fruit from their site is sold, with two of the primary customers being Orin Swift Wines, and Eric Cohn’s Shoe Shine Wine. The Gustafson fruit is preferred for the cleanliness of the site that comes with its elevation, but especially for how precisely Reed is able to follow the clients’ vineyard protocol.

looking Northeast towards Lake Sonoma, and the Rockpile AVA

The elevation over Dry Creek Valley comes through with the inversion effect–Gustafson is warmer at night, and cooler during the day, offering a narrower overall temperature range. The site is also only 18 miles from the coast, located at one of the higher points between the coast and the valley.

steep slope vineyards at Gustafson

With elevation, the individual berries on a cluster tend to be smaller, offering more concentrated flavors. This proved true even in 2012 when the overall cluster size was larger. This recent vintage, then, offered a unique balance of the concentrated spice from small berries, with still greater volume from larger clusters. The ultimate goal is to establish dry farming throughout the Gustafson Estate. Currently minimal watering is done simply because of how young the vines are.

Sheep’s Barn Pasture

The lowest vineyard on Gustafson Estate offers cool enough overall temperatures to host Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. It is the one area that had to be entirely replanted when the original grapes didn’t handle the cooler area well. It is also the only area on the site that has suffered frost damage from cool air pooling down the hillside into this little flat.

The Heritage Madrone, Gustafson Estate

Gustafson Estate hosts the oldest Madrone in Sonoma County, and what is believed to be the oldest in California as well. The tree is 11.5 feet around its base, and so beautiful.

The Heritage Madrone, with Kaitlin Reed, Gustafson’s Hospitality Manager

The idea of affordability is at the core of Gustafson Wine label, with the wines being priced for genuine value between $20 and $28.

The 2009 Mountain Cuvee, 83% Zinfandel, with the remaining a blend of Petite Sirah, and Syrah, is the clearest value. It offers a nice texture with smooth polish, an interesting complexity, and super clean presentation. They describe the goal of the wine as “to get enough backbone to be recognized as Zin, while avoiding the steamroll.”

The 2007 Petite Sirah is a good example of the quality of their fruit, again offering good value at $28. The advantage of the Gustafson site has shown itself in its love for Petite Sirah–it’s become the most planted fruit, the vine proving to be easy to generate both good crop levels and complexity on the hillside. Thought of as “the poor man’s Cab”, the Gustafson’s Petite Sirah does well at offering the richness and potential weight of a Cab, without going into heaviness that can come in an overdone Petite Sirah. It offers a lot of complexity on the nose, following into the palate with a silky rich mouthfeel and stimulating finish.

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Thank you to Kaitlin Reed for hosting me, and giving me a tour of the Gustafson site. It’s quite beautiful.

Thank you to Kyrsa Dixon.

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Touring Dry Creek Valley: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/11/28/touring-dry-creek-valley-sonoma-california/

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

#GrenacheDay: Tasting Central Coast & Sonoma, California Grenache Blanc and Grenache Noir (in varietal and in blend)

This previous Friday, September 21 marked International Grenache Day, an occasion celebrated worldwide with tasting parties and events. Though I am a fan of Grenache and Grenache Blanc from multiple locales, this year I chose to focus on California examples.

Following are hand drawn Characteristic Cards for both Grenache Blanc, and Grenache Noir, and tasting descriptions for Central Coast, and Sonoma County wines of both grape types, made as either a varietal bottling, or blend. The descriptions appear in alphabetical order by label.

California Grenache Blanc and Grenache Blanc Blends

click on comic to enlarge

 

BonnyDoon 2010 Le Cigare Blanc. 55% Roussane, 45% Grenache Blanc. Vibrant citrus blossom and saline nose. Beeswax, lily, dill, salt water palate. Wants age.

Bonny Doon 2010 Le Cigare Blanc Reserve. 56% Roussanne, 44% Grenache Blanc. Ultra juicy, and mineral-driven pushes through the mouth on a citrus textural love fest. How sexy and happy can we get? I am a fan.

Martian Ranch 2011 Grenache Blanc. Crushed Nut, light orange blossom, Meyer lemon zest and blossom, plus dill, with a long nut-candle wax finish. Round mouthfeel, pleasing texture. Well enjoyed.

Tablas Creek 2011 Grenache Blanc. Pit of black olives, salt water, dill, dust and musk. Delicate nose, light flavor presentation. Texturally focused with good mineral dance.

Tablas Creek 2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc. 45% Grenache Blanc, 34% Viognier, 18% Rousanne, 3% Marsanne. Chamomile that opens to apricot, buckwheat flour and hazelnut skin. Chalky, with beeswax and mineral finish. I want a little more zip here. Curious to try it with age.

Two Shepherds 2011 Grenache Blanc. Creamy bay leaf nose. Palate of peach blossom, and salt water freshness. Dill, integrated pepper and jalapeno skin. Lightly metallic. Makes me want food. I very much enjoy this wine.

 

California Grenache and Grenache Blends

click on comic to enlarge

Donelan 2010 Cuvee Moriah. 54% Grenache, 26% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah. Well integrated nose and palate presentation of light smoke and rare steak, violets and blue fruit, black and red cherries, light cranberry, pepper. Juicy fruit mouth. Very much enjoy this wine. Good drinking now showing good mouth weight. Will be brilliant in several years.  Can’t wait to age it.

Martian Ranch 2011 Grenache Noir. Pomegranate, sugar snap peas and ultra-fresh green pepper nose. Palate of ripe cherry, plus cherry pit, bramble, dried rose petals and toast finish. Lightly mouth watering, no mouth grip. Interesting presentation of this grape with its cool climate green notes. It struck me as strange at first, but I grew to quite enjoy it.

Ridge 2008 51% Syrah, 49% Grenache. Smoked meat, date, molasses, bay leaf, dirt with just a touch of horse, exotic spice, and a red fruit finish. Each of the Ridge wines are the richest examples in this overall tasting collection.

Ridge 2006 Lytton Estate Grenache with 10% Petite Syrah, 10% Zinfandel. Bay leaf nose. Brazil nut and hazelnut, menthol, concentrated fruit palate, with long finish.

Ridge 2005 Lytton Estate Grenache with 6% Petite Syrah 6% Zinfandel. Nose of rhubarb pie, licorice root, figs, & almond extract. Concentrated fruit, soy, light smoke and integrated pepper. Juicy palate. Long finish of exotic spice and walnut with a pleasing grip. The darkest most date-plus-soy focused of the Ridge wines.

Sheldon 2011 Ceja Vineyard Grenache. Red cherry, herb, pleasing palate offering a textural pull leaning towards drying mouth grip. This wine has good meat-plus-sexy. I enjoy the light body and dance-y flavor presentation of this wine.

Sheldon 2008 Vinlocity Grenache. Starts at the intersection of cherry pit-almond-vanilla spreads into light wintergreen-and-pine. Good structure. Wants age.

Tablas Creek 2010 Cotes De Tablas. 46% Grenache, 39% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise. Tomato seed, fig, and wheat plant. Pungent berry high notes, carrying a devil musk and his leather jacket from forest fog. Wants age.

Tablas Creek 2010 Grenache. Weighty wild red berry, pepper, wet leather and wet earth, plus spice. Nice mouth grab with pleasing acidic, mineral zip. Like the texture and freshness here.

Two Shepherds 2010 GSM. 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre. Cold red berries and flowers, light smoke, meat, violets and just the right amount of wet mud. Vibrant, only lightly bloody (a little blood here is pleasing), herbal, and freshly green. Earthy, with hints of leather, and a fresh mouth grip.

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Thank you to Bonny Doon, Tablas Creek, and Donelan for the wine samples. Ridge, Two Shepherds, and Sheldon Wines were tasted at the Rhone Rangers North Coast Chapter Grenache Day event.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com. WakawakaWineReviews–accept no substitute.