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
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
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
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.
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