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Monthly Archives: July 2010
Picardy Shiraz 2008 $25 Pemberton, Western Australia Dr Bill Pannell founded Moss Wood, now one of Australia’s great cabernet producers, back in 1969 and later sold it to the Mugford family. By 1993 Pannell, having tired of cabernet, established Picardy at Pemberton with his son Dan. Among other wines they make this beautiful, highly aromatic, savoury, chocolate-rich shiraz. It’s a medium-bodied style with silky textured, soft tannins – described by the Pannells as a shiraz for pinot lovers.
Grosset Gaia 2006 $55 Clare Valley, South Australia Jeffrey Grosset’s Gaia – a cabernet sauvignon (75%), cabernet franc (20%) and merlot (5%) blend – belies the burly Clare stereotype with its sweet-berry fragrance, elegance and comparative austerity. It’s all class, and built for long cellaring – the sort of wine that captures your attention with the first sniff, and the interests grows as you sip through each glass. The more robust 2007 has been released but the 2006 is still available in some retail outlets.
Chapel Hill Old Vine Grenache 2008 $30 McLaren Vale, South Australia Can red wine and curry co-exist? Our experience is that full-bodied, fruity, soft Australian reds like warm climate shiraz and grenache succeed – as the sweet fruit survives the scorching heat of capsaicin, the alkaloid giving chilli its sting. We road tested Chapel Hill successfully at Jewel of India, Manuka – our sole caveat being that the French oak seemed a little accentuated as the heat rose. Away from the heat, the exuberant fruit and oak harmonised nicely.
Curly Flat Pinot Noir 2006 $46 Macedon, Victoria At the Winewise Small Vignerons Awards judged in Canberra in early July, Curly Flat 2006 topped a field of French, Australian and New Zealand Pinot Noirs – many, including one from famed Burgundy producer, Domaine de la Romanee Conti, were far more expensive. It’s a sensational wine from Phil and Jeni Moraghan and in the world of pinot noir, it’s positively cheap for this quality. It has more fleshy, mid-palate fruit than the Burgundy style and the tannin structure to evolve for many years.
Bourke Street Canberra District Shiraz 2008 $19 Murrumbateman, New South Wales The new Bourke Street label is an offshoot of the Nick O’Leary and Collector brands, made by Nick O’Leary and Alex McKay. McKay says there’s some overlap in their grape buying and because they buy whole blocks from growers, not cherry-picking small amounts, they end up with more wine than they need. The result is the refined, elegant Bourke Street shiraz – built on vivid, ripe-berry and spice flavours, fresh acidity and fine tannins.
Mitolo Jester Vermentino 2010 $20–24 McLaren Vale, South Australia Italy’s white vermentino variety grows principally in Sardinia and Liguria. This one, made by Ben Glaetzer, comes from Frank Mitolo’s vineyard at Willunga, McLaren Vale. It’s just 10 per cent alcohol with simple, fresh-from-the-vine tropical fruit notes dominating the aroma and flavour. The combination of vibrant, fresh fruit, low alcohol and dry, zesty finish make it a good match for light, fresh food. It’s a drink-now wine, so not for the cellar.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
There are changes afoot in the Canberra wine district, following the departure of two of the district’s most influential winemakers from Lake George Winery late last year. Nick O’Leary left the winery in winter 2009 and Alex McKay followed in December.
Part of the Lake George property is up for sale. And O’Leary and McKay are now making their wines separately – O’Leary at his in-law’s Affleck Vineyard and McKay at a leased winery near Murrumbateman.
The Karelas family bought Lake George Vineyard from founder Edgar Riek in 1998. At Edgar Riek’s urging, following Hardy’s departure from Canberra, Theo Karelas and his son Sam hired Riek, O’Leary and McKay to oversee a complete overhaul of the vineyard in 2007. McKay was to make the wines. And McKay and O’Leary had freedom to develop their own labels, Collector and Nick O’Leary.
Then in March 2008, the Karelas family acquired the adjoining Madew property including land, vineyards and a winery-, cellar-door-restaurant complex. McKay and O’Leary led a rejuvenation of the neglected vineyards and consolidated the winemaking equipment into the Madew cellar. The combined properties produced wines under the Lake George Winery label and the Madew name was dropped.
Speaking from overseas last week, Sam Karelas said he was selling Riek’s original Lake George property but would continue trading from the Madew property under the Lake George Winery name. He said he would continue to operate the restaurant.
Alex McKay said though he left Lake George half way through the growing season, he made two wines from the vineyard in 2010 – a tempranillo and riesling.
He says left Lake George because the winemaking obligation there had become a bit much with his Collector brand beginning to work well and demanding more attention.
In time for the 2010 vintage he arranged to lease a small winery owned by Vikki Fischer at Murrumbateman. Fischer made her Cardinia wines there. But, says McKay, as a working mother with three children she found little time for winemaking.
McKay says it’s an efficient little winery and by adding a few bits and pieces it easily handled vintage 2010.
He made “some nice parcels of shiraz, which was a pretty good achievement in a tough vintage” but hasn’t decide yet whether there’ll be a “reserve” bottling as well as the standard Collector Marked Tree Shiraz.
He also has a single barrel of sangiovese, sourced from Wayne and Jenny Fischer’s Nanima Vineyard, Murrumbateman. But it “may never see light of day”.
The standout wine in 2010, he says, is a Rhone style, oak-fermented white blend of marsanne, roussanne and viognier. “I’m very happy with it”, he adds (given McKay’s modesty, that probably means sensational). He’s also pleased with a 2010 riesling made for the Half Moon Vineyard at Braidwood.
McKay continues to work closely with O’Leary. “There’s a fair bit of overlaps on our grape sources”, he says, and it helps if they both keep an eye on the vineyards. They bring different perspectives, McKay adds. But, more importantly, as vintage approaches each year, they spend a great deal of time visiting and influencing the management of vineyards they’re buying from. Ultimately, fruit quality drives wine quality – and their fussiness in this area shows in the wines they make.
On Friday 2 July, for examples, judges at the Winewise Small Vignerons Awards awarded the trophy for best shiraz to Nick O’Leary Canberra District Shiraz 2009 – further cementing Canberra’s leadership with this style of shiraz.
O’Leary’s success in this credible wine show follows similar applause for Collector Reserve Shiraz 2008, made by O’Leary’s long-time winemaking mate Alex McKay, at the 2010 Royal Sydney Wine Show.
McKay says that when he and O’Leary source fruit from local growers they don’t cherry pick the amount to suit their own brands. If they like a block of vines, they’ll buy the lot as it’s neater for the grower and, it seems, opens other winemaking options – like their just released joint-venture Bourke Street Shiraz 2008 ($19).
McKay says there’s a limit to the volumes they can make and sell at the prices their own brands command (currently around $30 for the standard Nick O’Leary and Collector and $46 for Collector Reserve).
But there’s an opportunity, especially in restaurants, for good quality regional wines at a more affordable $20.
They make all of their shiraz as if it’ll be a component of the premium wines, says McKay. But as they move from oak maturation to final blending, for style, quality or volume reasons they eliminate some parcels. In 2008 these shiraz parcels became the first Bourke Street wine, released recently after a year in bottle. It’s a terrific drop. And there’s a 2009 in the wings, along with a few other wines, to be covered here when they’re released.
The 2009 vintage of Collector Marked Tree Shiraz and Reserve Shiraz are to be released in September and they’ll be reviewed here at the time. We’ll also review O’Leary’s trophy-winning 2009 Shiraz in the near future.
And we’ll just have to wait and see who buys the original Lake George and what they do with it, and how the Karelas family fares with the piece they keep. We’ll catch up with Sam Karelas when he returns to Australia and pass on any news.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
There are delicious, idiosyncratic beers that belt you over the head (like Matilda Bay’s Long Shot, reviewed below), beers that beguile and seduce with subtlety (like Asahi Super Dry reviewed last month) and beers that just don’t register on the flavour meter, but succeed anyway.
The new Carlton Natural Super Dry Lager might fall into the latter category. The sample bottle arrived with the obligatory cliché, jargon-riddled press release. And the beer, to my taste, seemed low on flavour and bitterness, albeit with a trace of pleasant hops character. It’s a low carb beer – achieved by extending the “brewing process to break down the complex sugars”. But unfermented sugars contribute much to the flavour and body of traditional beers. Take them out and there’s a hole to fill. Brewers achieve this to some extent with clever use of hops.
To me, though, low-carb beers seem made for a neurotic market. And clichés like “the finest natural ingredients are brewed” and “Carlton Natural hits the flavour and style bulls-eye for 25 to 30 year old guys” simply don’t gel in the face of such bland flavours.
What’s marvellous, though, is that a brewer as big as Fosters has the ability to produce both a large volume, market-driven style like Carlton Natural and the idiosyncratic Matilda Bay Long Shot.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
Innis and Gunn Original Oak Aged Beer 330ml $7.70 This oak-aged, bottle-conditioned beer comes from Edinburgh. It’s the colour of honey and the aroma is fruity, malty and toffee-like. The palate is brisk and the toffee-malt flavours are boosted by a solid 6.6 per cent alcohol. It’s definitely a winter warmer, thanks to the alcohol and fairly sweet, malty richness.
Matilda Bay Long Shot Coffee Infused Dark Ale 3445ml 6-pack $19.99 Matilda Bay, the boutique-brewing arm of Fosters, offers this exclusively through the Woolworths-owned Dan Murphy outlets. The ale uses roasted malt, seasoned with roasted Yirgacheffe (Ethiopia) coffee beans. The result is dark and strong, with rich chocolaty flavours and lingering espresso-like bitterness. Needs food to mollify the bitterness.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
Helm Canberra District Classic Dry Riesling 2010 $28 Ken Helm launched his new vintage riesling at the same time as his first book, “Riesling in Australia”, co-authored with Trish Burgess. The book, selling for $49.50 through Winetitles, Adelaide, makes interesting reading, especially for riesling nuts. And the wine makes another strong statement for Canberra riesling, especially as it comes from the small and difficult 2010 vintage. It’s low in alcohol at 11.5 per cent and tastes markedly higher in acid than previous vintages – two endearing attributes as both make for great delicacy, and the acid accentuates the intense, lemony varietal flavour and lingering, brisk finish. This is outstanding and built to last.
Les Petites VignettesAlsace Pinot Blanc 2008 $18–$21 Alsace Late Harvest Pinot Gris 2007 375ml $28–$33
Les Petites Vignettes is a Foster’s brand, made in France and sealed with screw caps –a great advantage for fresh young whites like this Alsacian pair. In Australia, there’s very little pinot blanc, a white mutant of pinot noir. But it’s reasonably common in Alsace where it makes full flavoured dry whites. This one’s pure and minerally with a spicy note, rich texture and fresh, dry finish. The late picked, dessert-style pinot gris, another pinot noir mutant, is luscious, delicious, viscous and fresh with a firm, finishing tweak of tannin.
Yellow TailShiraz 2009 $6–$10 Reserve Shiraz 2008 $11–$15 Reserve Chardonnay 2008 $11–15
Despite yellow tail’s runaway success in America the Casella family still finds stock to service the Australian market. The basic shiraz can be found on special at $6, or fully priced at $10. It’s a decent, ripe, full-flavoured style, big on fruit and easy to drink – one to throw down at the BBQ and ask no questions. The reserve version offers ripe, spicy varietal flavours, but its deeper and more interesting, and interwoven savoury flavours, partly derived from oak maturation. Reserve Chardonnay, too, includes a touch of oak, but the main focus is clean, pure melon and peach varietal chardonnay flavour.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
Riesling in Australia – the history, the regions, the legends, and the producers Ken Helm and Trish Burgess. Published by Winetitles, South Australia, 2010. $49.50 plus postage at Winetitles.
Spike Milligan might have called “Riesling in Australia” a book of bits, or a bit of a book. Written by Ken Helm and Trish Burgess, the 144-page book – subtitled “The history, the regions, the legends, and the producers” – is largely a series of vignettes about riesling, told by third parties.
Over a period of three years Helm and Burgess pulled together material on a wide spectrum of riesling topics, in varying levels of detail. The first five chapters cover the grape’s origins and Australian history, its performance in a number of Australian regions, how it’s grown, the science behind its flavour and consumer and media perceptions of it.
Chapter six, the longest in the book, sketches twenty “Legends of Australian riesling”, including Helm, and their reminiscences, recollections and reflections.
The book concludes with a description of riesling events around the word, a table of Australian riesling producers by state and region and colour reproductions of Wine Australia’s regional maps.
The structure makes it, perhaps, more of an interesting reference book than a cover-to-cover read. It seems pitched at the riesling faithful rather than potential converts, something the variety sorely needs.
While riesling true believers and the trade might be the main audience targeted by Helm and Burgess, its appeal might have been widened with the addition of a little more narrative connecting the interesting material.
For example, one of the books many photographs, labels, memorabilia and period advertisements is a double-page advertisement, from way back in 1979, spruiking the virtues of Stelvin screw caps.
Now, if you’re not seeped in wine lore you won’t know the pithiness of this ad. There’s no caption or explanation helping readers connect the dots. Later in the book riesling legend John Vickery describes the acceptance of screw caps as “the most significant event in the improvement in quality of Australian rieslings”.
Screw cap’s success in Australia dates from the 1998 vintage of Vickery’s Richmond Grove Watervale and Barossa Rieslings, followed in 2000 by a group of Clare Valley Riesling makers. So how does this connect to an ad appearing in “Family Circle” in 1979?
The old ad marks the industry’s early push to replace cork with screw cap for quality reasons. Consumers didn’t buy the story at the time, and the effort failed.
But the screw-cap-sealed Pewsey Vale rieslings of that era matured beautifully, providing the impetus – and confidence – winemakers needed to try again, successfully, twenty years later.
Riesling has been all the better for it ever since. The story deserves a chapter of its own. And perhaps because the book speaks to the converted it glosses over the variety’s lack of commercial success in Australia.
A chapter on riesling viticulture, by Louisa Rose, Chief Winemaker for the Yalumba Wine Company, laments riesling’s perennially niche status. It sat doggedly at around two per cent of the national crush from 2005 to 2009, writes Rose. Adelaide Hills winemaker, Stephen George, states the position more starkly and personally. Why does he put so much time and effort into riesling when he wonders each year if he’ll be able to sell it?
That the challenge facing riesling is one of perception and consumer acceptance, not quality, is acknowledged in the book. But, like the screwcap story, it’s a theme that might have been elaborated, and used to convert the doubters.
This failure to elaborate on major themes is part of a general lack of narrative connecting the various sections of the book. But these are minor quibbles when we look at the depth and range of material assembled by Helm and Burgess. They acknowledge it as a reference work and a “guide on winery trips”, targeted at students of oenology, viticulture, winemakers and wine consumers – probably in that order.
For the general reader with an interest in wine, the most interesting section may well be the vignettes of leading riesling makers, published in alphabetical order. Sifting through these, much of the story of modern Australian riesling emerges. Again, from the perspective of those not seeped in wine lore, this may seem fair and reasonable. But the section begs some narrative perspective. The makers contributed different things at different times.
How much more exciting might this section have been with an overview from the authors – explaining the significance of the early work done by Colin Gramp and Guenter Prass at Orlando and the extraordinary rieslings made by John Vickery at Leo Burings from the 1960s. These inspired the next generation of winemakers; and a tasting of Vickery’s old rieslings in 1997 led directly to the modern adoption of screw caps in 1998.
For committed riesling drinkers, makers and grape growers, Louisa Rose’s chapter on viticulture and Dr Leigh Francis’s chapter on riesling flavour are highlights.
Hopefully the book will spark lots of commentary and create new interest in riesling. Helm in particular has been a tireless promoter of the variety, and the Canberra district. We, the converted, love our rieslings and the comparatively low prices niche status brings. One day, maybe, the word will get out. And it will if Helm and Burgess have their way.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan
Rutherglen Estate Fiano 2009 $21.95 Rutherglen, Victoria A number of Australian vignerons, mainly in hotter regions, now grow fiano, a white native of Italy’s warm, dry Campania region. Rutherglen Estate’s well made 2009, its second vintage, gives a good impression of what to expect from the variety. It’s clean, fresh, zesty, richly textured and dry. The varietal template says to expect “herbal, nutty, smoky spicy notes and hazelnut”. I found herb and spice and touch of pear – even a nice savoury touch, but, alas, not nuts.
Teusner “The Independent” Shiraz Mataro 2008 $22 Barossa Valley, South Australia Kym Teusner is one of many young, well connected, energetic winemakers now revealing the beautiful colours and tones of Barossa shiraz, mataro and grenache. “The Independent” – sourced from old low-yielding vines in the Ebenezer, Kalimna and Moppa areas of north Barossa – expresses the ripe, dark-berry flavours, opulence and softness of shiraz, tempered by the spiciness and firm, savoury tannins of mataro (aka mourvedre). This is a wonderful regional specialty.
Printhie Shiraz 2008 $17 Orange, New South Wales Printhie, founded in 1996, owns 33 hectares of vines at Molong within the official Orange Region boundary. It’s a diverse region, making good chardonnay in the higher, cooler parts and delightful, fine-boned shiraz in the lower, warmer areas. Printhie 2008, made by Drew Tuckwell, appeals for current, medium bodied drinking. It’s in the aromatic, spicy, supple mould – an utter contrast to Teusner’s burlier Barossa style. Fine tannin and comparatively high acid seem to accentuate the vivid fruit flavours.
West End Shiraz 2008 $14.95 Hilltops Region, Young, New South Wales West End, from the Hilltops region, sits stylistically between the Barossa and Orange shirazes reviewed here. It’s fuller bodied than the Orange wine, but still medium bodied – and delivers the distinctive plump, juicy fruity flavours and soft tannins of Hilltops shiraz. While it lacks the depth, length and polished tannins to get to the next star level, it offers tasty, satisfying drinking at the price Bill Calabria’s team makes it down at Griffith, New South Wales.
Campbells Classic Muscat 500ml $41.90 Rutherglen, Victoria Rutherglen’s unique, luscious muscats come in four categories – Rutherglen, Classic, Grand and Rare – each representing a step up in age, richness and complexity. Campbell’s basic version, like raisened muscat grapes on a pogo stick, sells for $18.80. But it’s worth stepping up to “Classic”. It’s slightly darker in colour, slightly more olive green at the rim and notably more luscious. It also has the patina of age – a complex of aromas and flavours described by the Spanish as “rancio” – a sniff and a sip brings enlightenment.
Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 $85 Margaret River, Western Australia I wonder if David Hohnen imagined the class and polish of today’s wines when he founded Cape Mentelle in 1970? Hohnen’s now involved in McHenry Hohnen, but Moet Hennessy Australia, with Robert Mann in the winery, keep Cape Mentelle atop Australia’s cabernet pinnacle. The 2007 is as good as any in the brand’s long history: it’s built on fine, concentrated, ripe varietal flavours, interwoven with sweet, cedary oak and firm but silk-smooth tannins. Mann says the fruits from three blocks planted on the Walcliffe vineyard in 1970 and a parcel from 35 year-old vines at Wilyabrup.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
For the most part brewers and winemakers happily co-exist. Indeed, there’s been considerable cross-over within the industries in Australia, with winemakers becoming brewers, brewing companies acquiring wineries, and wine companies acquiring interests in breweries. The list of connections is long.
And having judged at both wine and beer shows, I’ve joined beer judges over a rich, warming red after long, freezing tasting sessions in the depth of a Ballarat winter; and winemakers over a refreshing ale after a mouth-blackening run of burly Australian reds.
But the peace was disturbed earlier this year when Murray Burton proposed a cellar door, restaurant and brewery adjacent to Cullens winery in Western Australia’s Margaret River region.
Winemaker Vanya Cullen opposed the development on the grounds that yeasts escaping from the brewery could contaminate the yeasts in her biodynamic vineyards and adversely affect wine quality.
While most wine is made from cultured yeasts, Cullen is one of an increasing number of winemakers adopting a riskier approach – letting nature take its course in wine ferments. It’s part and parcel of the quest for regional identity.
On the strength of Cullen’s objection, Busselton Shire rejected Burton’s proposal in March. But after later attempts at mediation, the matter seems set to go through the courts.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan
Zierholz Oat Malt Stout half-pint $3.90 Christoph Zierholz attributes the slippery, smooth palate of his new stout to a portion of malted oats in the brew. With malted, roasted barley it produced a dark, appealing brew with roasted coffee and chocolate-like flavours and smooth, dry, bitter finish. It’s complex, food friendly and easy to drink, especially with the food at Zierholz.
Mountain Goat Organic Steam Ale 330ml $3.70 Mountain Goat’s bottle-conditioned, certified organic ale has the pleasantly tart and tangy edge that comes from adding a little wheat malt to the brew. It’s as fresh as bread from the oven, even has a slightly bready flavour. And the hops add delightful aroma and flavours as well as a delicately bitter finish.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
Domain Day Mount Crawford One Serious Riesling 2009 $20 Henschke Eden Valley Julius Riesling 2009 $25–$30 A couple of smart rieslings here – one from the Eden Valley, the other from neighbouring Mount Crawford. We tested them with Chinese food and both did the job well, though in this situation we preferred the vivid, sweet fruit and delicate, dry finish of the Domain Day wine by a small margin. It’s made by Robin Day, a veteran riesling maker and for years, before setting up his own vineyard, head of white wine making at Orlando. The Henschke wine has a tighter structure with rich underlying texture, suggesting a good cellaring future.
Penfolds Reserve Bin 08A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2008 $80–$90 Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2007 $120–$130 Penfolds ‘white Grange’ project of the nineties produced the flagship, Yattarna Chardonnay and several other spin offs, like this Bin 08A from the Adelaide Hills – a taut, bone-dry, intense style showing quite strong aromas and flavours derived from maturation in barrel on yeast lees. It’s built to last. The vivid, beautiful Yattarna combines fruit from the Derwent Valley, Adelaide Hills and Henty, Victoria. But the real magic, I suspect, comes from the Tasmanian component, sourced from Derwent Estate. If Penfolds are serious about chardonnay they ought to buy this vineyard and produce an estate wine from it – that’s where the future lies.
Teusner Barossa Valley Joshua 2009 $28 Joshua is Kym Teusner’s unoaked blend of 60 per cent grenache, 30 per cent mourvedre (or mataro) and 10 per cent shiraz, sourced from very old vines (up to 95 years old, says Teusner) mainly from the Barossa’s Ebenezer, Kalimna, Greenock and Moppa sub-regions. It’s a brilliant, completely irresistible drop led by the fragrance and juicy suppleness of grenache. In fact, the fruit’s off the leash and romping as soon as the cap comes off the bottle. Under the boisterous grenache, though, lies the fine, tannic backbone and spiciness of mourvedre and the weight and richness of shiraz.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010