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Monthly Archives: September 2010
Every five years, Langton’s, a wine auction specialist belonging to Woolworths, updates its classification of Australian wines. Unlike all the other wine-rating systems, based on the judgement of individual palates, Langton’s derives its classification from the volume and value of wine it sells at auction. The rankings are therefore based on perceptions of value and quality by thousands of individuals over time.
The classification focuses on Australia’s greatest collectible wines, predominantly reds. It’s an elite group, totalling just 123 wines (15 whites, 108 reds) in this year’s update – up from 101 in 2005.
The classification breaks wines into four categories, “exceptional” (the most sought after and prized Australian wines on the market), “outstanding” (benchmark quality wines with a very strong market following), “excellent” (high performing wines of exquisite quality with moderate to strong market following) and “distinguished” (secondary market staples or emerging classics).
The 2010 classification lists 17 “exceptional” wines, 32 “outstanding” wines, 36 “excellent” wines and 38 “distinguished wines, from all wine producing states except Queensland.
Despite an immensely changed landscape since publication of the first Langton’s classification in 1990, there remains a strong bias to warm climate shiraz.
The super elite “exceptional” category, for example, demonstrates the enduring popularity and quality of these styles. It includes eight warm-climate shirazes, five from the Barossa – Penfolds Grange, Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Hunter Valley Shiraz, Chris Ringland Barossa Valley Shiraz, Clarendon Hills Astralis McLaren Vale Syrah (= shiraz), Henschke Hill of Grace Eden Valley Shiraz, Rockford Basket Press Barossa Valley Shiraz, Torbreck RunRig Barossa Valley Shiraz and Wendouree Clare Valley Shiraz.
However, the list now reflects something of Australia’s great winemaking diversity – a story best illustrated in the evolution of the category and the range of regions and style in it, starting with Grange as the sole star in 1990.
EVOLUTION OF THE “EXCEPTIONAL” CATEGORY (known as “Outstanding A” until 1996)
Original classification 1990 1. Penfolds Grange – multi-region South Australian blend, based on a “mother” wine from Penfolds Kalimna Vineyard, northwestern Barossa Valley. Predominantly shiraz, but generally contains a small amount of cabernet sauvignon.
1996 classification 2. Henschke Hill of Grace (single vineyard shiraz, Eden Valley – a region within the Barossa zone) 3. Mount Mary Quintet Cabernets (single vineyard, Yarra Valley – a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot in varying proportions, according to vintage) 2000 classification 4. Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay (single vineyard, Margaret River) 5. Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon (single vineyard, Margaret River) 6. Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon (multi-region South Australian blend, generally containing significant components from Coonawarra and the Kalimna Vineyard, Barossa Valley) 7. Wendouree Shiraz (single vineyard, Clare Valley)
2005 classification 8. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir (single vineyard, Gippsland) 9. Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot (single vineyard, Margaret River) 10. Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay (single vineyard, Beechworth) 11. Rockford Basket Press Shiraz (Barossa Valley)
2010 classification 12. Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz (single vineyard, Lower Hunter Valley) 13. Chris Ringland Shiraz (single vineyard, Barossa Valley) 14. Clarendon Hills Astralis Syrah (McLaren Vale) 15. Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier (Murrumbateman, Canberra District) 16. Grosset Polish Hill Riesling (Polish Hill sub-region, Clare Valley) 17. Torbreck RunRig Shiraz (Barossa Valley)
This year’s classification added four more warm-climate shirazes and filled two gaps in the top ranks. Canberra’s Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier cemented its position as Australia’s leading refined, elegant cool-climate shiraz. And Grosset Polish Hill Riesling confirms its status as Australia’s premier riesling.
The top ranks now include one riesling, two chardonnays, one pinot noir, nine shirazes and four cabernets. Conspicuously missing from the ranks are cabernet sauvignons from Coonawarra and pinot noirs and chardonnays from the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Macedon and Tasmania.
However, these are all knocking on the door. Coonawarra, for example has a leg in as it supplies much of the fruit for Penfolds Bin 707. But the locals must look jealously at rival Margaret River’s two successful cabernets, Cullens Diana Madeline and Moss Wood, and wonder what they’re doing wrong.
However, they’ll be comforted by the elevation of Balnaves The Tally to the “outstanding” category and Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch” to “excellent”.
Perhaps they’ll be spurred to action by English writer Andrew Jefford. In July’s Decanter magazine he wrote, “Coonawarra is a Ferrari among wine regions: its potential is astonishing. But it’s a Ferrari constantly pootled along at suburban speed limits for the sake of misguided efficiency. I long for some spirited garagiste to get hold of 10 hectares or so and send them screaming round every corner on the circuit, just to see what could be achieved”.
In the same way that many wines rose through the ranks and others arrived for the first time, others fell from favour. This doesn’t imply a fall in quality, just a shift in demand. The losers this year were:
GIACONDA Pinot Noir, Beechworth Vic BANNOCKBURN Vineyards Chardonnay, Geelong Vic BANNOCKBURN VINEYARDS Pinot Noir, Geelong Vic BASS PHILLIP ESTATE Pinot Noir, South Gippsland, Vic LEASINGHAM Classic Clare Shiraz, Clare Valley SA MITCHELTON Print Label Shiraz, Nagambie Lakes Vic ORLANDO Lawsons Shiraz, Padthaway SA PETALUMA Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills SA PLANTAGENET Mount Barker Shiraz, Great Southern WA SEPPELT Great Western Sparkling Shiraz, Great Western Vic YARRA YERING Dry Red No 2 Shiraz, Yarra Valley Vic
Despite the bias towards traditional warm-climate red styles, the list should help dispel the myth of a uniformly hot Australia making only one wine style. There’s a diversity and depth here to compete on a world scale. It contains the best of our multi-region blends, but the majority are single region or single vineyard specialties representing the major classic grape varieties across an astonishing spectrum of terroirs – from near Hobart at around 43 degrees south to the Hunter Valley, 11 degrees closer to the equator. Few countries can match that diversity.
And it’s not populated solely with unaffordable icons. Sure, scarce wines take on scarce prices, possibly adding to their allure for some. But up and coming stars may take years to be recognised in the secondary market. Look, for example, among the “excellent” ranks and find that affordable gem, Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. Or among the “distinguished” list you’ll see Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and Pewsey Vale The Contours Eden Valley Riesling – stunning wines offered at realistic prices when they’re released.
Even more encouraging for drinkers and cellarers, are the many beautiful wines not yet showing on secondary market radar. Think of Curly Flat Macedon pinot noir and chardonnay; of Canberra’s swelling ranks of beautiful, silky shirazes; of Tasmania’s Bream Creek pinot noir or Stefano Lubiana chardonnay, or the new ranks of alternative varieties, notably tempranillo, notably Mount Majura’s.
I’ve listed this year’s full classification below. For profiles of the wines or to check the latest auction prices, visit www.langtons.com.au
LANGTON’S CLASSIFICATION 2010
Exceptional PENFOLDS Bin 95 Grange Shiraz, SA BASS PHILLIP Reserve Pinot Noir, South Gippsland VIC BROKENWOOD WINES Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz, Hunter Valley NSW CHRIS RINGLAND Shiraz, Barossa SA CLARENDON HILLS Astralis Syrah, McLaren Vale SA CLONAKILLA Shiraz-Viognier, Canberra District NSW CULLEN Diana Madeline Cabernet-Merlot, Margaret River WA GIACONDA Chardonnay, Beechworth VIC GROSSET Polish Hill Riesling, Clare Valley SA HENSCHKE Hill of Grace Shiraz, Eden Valley SA LEEUWIN ESTATE Art Series Chardonnay, Margaret River WA MOSS WOOD Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA MOUNT MARY Quintet Cabernet Blend, Yarra Valley VIC PENFOLDS Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, SA ROCKFORD Basket Press Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA TORBRECK RunRig Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA WENDOUREE Shiraz, Clare Valley SA
Outstanding BALNAVES OF COONAWARRA The Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA BAROSSA VALLEY ESTATE E & E Black Pepper Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA BASS PHILLIP Premium Pinot Noir, South Gippsland VIC BEST’S Thomson Family Great Western Shiraz, Grampians VIC BINDI Block 5 Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges VIC d’ARENBERG The Dead Arm Shiraz, McLaren Vale SA DALWHINNIE The Eagle Shiraz, Pyrenees VIC DE BORTOLI Noble One Botrytis Semillon, Riverina NSW GRANT BURGE Meshach Shiraz, Barossa Valley GREENOCK CREEK Roennfeldt Road Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley SA GREENOCK CREEK Roennfeldt Road Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA GROSSET Springvale Riesling, Clare Valley SA HARDY’S Eileen Hardy Shiraz, SA HENSCHKE Mount Edelstone Shiraz, Eden Valley SA JASPER HILL Emily’s Paddock Shiraz-Cabernet Franc, Heathcote VIC JASPER HILL Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz, Heathcote VIC JIM BARRY The Armagh Shiraz, Clare Valley SA KAESLER WINES Old Bastard Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA KATNOOK ESTATE Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA KAY BROTHERS AMERY VINEYARDS Block 6 Old Vine Shiraz, McLaren Vale SA MAJELLA The Malleea Cabernet-Shiraz, Coonawarra SA MCWILLIAM’S Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon, Hunter Valley NSW MOUNT MARY Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley VIC NOON Winery Reserve Shiraz, Langhorne Creek SA PENFOLDS Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz, SA PENFOLDS St. Henri Shiraz, SA PIERRO Chardonnay, Margaret River WA TAHBILK 1860 Vines Shiraz, Nagambie Lakes VIC TYRRELL’S Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley NSW WENDOUREE Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley SA WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA YALUMBA The Octavius Old Vine Shiraz, Barossa SA
Excellent BANNOCKBURN Serré Pinot Noir, Geelong VIC BEST’S Bin No.O Great Western Shiraz, Grampians VIC BINDI Original Vineyard Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges VIC CAPE MENTELLE Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA CORIOLE Lloyd Reserve Shiraz, McLaren Vale SA CRAIGLEE Shiraz, Sunbury VIC DALWHINNIE Moonambel Shiraz, Pyrenees VIC DOMAINE A Cabernet Sauvignon, Coal River Valley Tas ELDERTON Command Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA FOX CREEK Reserve Shiraz, McLaren Vale SA GIACONDA Warner Vineyard Shiraz, Beechworth VIC HENSCHKE Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon, Eden Valley SA HOUGHTON Jack Mann Frankland River Cabernet Blend, Great Southern WA HOWARD PARK Abercrombie Cabernet, Margaret River-Great Southern WA KATNOOK ESTATE Prodigy Shiraz, Coonawarra SA LAKE’S FOLLY White Label Cabernet Blend, Hunter Valley NSW LEO BURING Leonay Riesling, Eden/Clare Valley SA MAIN RIDGE ESTATE Half Acre Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula VIC MOUNT MARY Chardonnay, Yarra Valley VIC NOON WINERY Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Langhorne Creek SA PARINGA ESTATE The Paringa Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula VIC PARKER COONAWARRA ESTATE Terra Rossa First Growth Cabernet-Merlot, Coonawarra SA PENFOLDS Magill Estate Shiraz, Adelaide SA PENFOLDS RWT Shiraz Barossa SA PETALUMA Coonawarra Cabernet-Merlot, Coonawarra SA PETER LEHMANN Stonewell Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA SEPPELT St Peters Great Western Vineyards Shiraz, Grampians VIC ST HALLETT Old Block Shiraz, Barossa SA TORBRECK Descendant Shiraz Viognier, Barossa Valley SA VASSE FELIX Heytesbury Cabernet Blend, Margaret River-Great Southern WA WENDOUREE Cabernet-Malbec, Clare Valley SA WENDOUREE Shiraz-Malbec, Clare Valley SA WENDOUREE Shiraz-Mataro, Clare Valley SA WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA YARRA YERING Dry Red Wine No.1 Cabernet, Yarra Valley VIC YERINGBERG Cabernet Blend, Yarra Valley VIC
Distinguished BOWEN ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA CASTAGNA Genesis Syrah, Beechworth VIC CHARLES MELTON Nine Popes Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvedre, Barossa Valley SA COLDSTREAM HILLS Reserve Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley VIC CRAWFORD RIVER WINES Riesling, Henty VIC d’ARENBERG WINES The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale SA FREYCINET VINEYARDS Pinot Noir, Eastern Tas JACOB’S CREEK ORLANDO St. Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA KATNOOK ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA KILIKANOON Oracle Shiraz, Clare Valley SA LEEUWIN ESTATE Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA LINDEMANS Limestone Ridge Vineyard Shiraz-Cabernet, Coonawarra SA MAJELLA Cabernet, Coonawarra SA MCWILLIAM’S Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz, Hunter Valley NSW MOUNT LANGI GHIRAN Langi Shiraz, Grampians VIC PARINGA ESTATE The Paringa Single Vineyard Shiraz, Mornington Peninsula VIC PENFOLDS Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz, SA PENFOLDS Bin 128 Shiraz, Coonawarra SA PENFOLDS Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon SA PETALUMA Hanlin Hill Riesling, Clare Valley SA PEWSEY VALE The Contours Riesling, Eden Valley SA REDBANK SALLY’S PADDOCK Cabernet Shiraz Cabernet Franc Merlot, Pyrenees VIC ROLF BINDER Veritas Hanisch Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA SAVATERRE Chardonnay, Beechworth VIC TIM ADAMS The Aberfeldy Shiraz, Clare Valley SA TURKEY FLAT Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA TYRRELL’S Vat 47 Chardonnay, Hunter Valley NSW VASSE FELIX Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA VOYAGER ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, WA WANTIRNA ESTATE Amelia Cabernet Merlot, Yarra Valley VIC WILD DUCK CREEK ESTATE Springflat Shiraz, Heathcote VIC WIRRA WIRRA RSW Shiraz, McLaren Vale SA WOLF BLASS Black Label, SA WOLF BLASS WINES Platinum Shiraz, SA WOODLANDS Family Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE Michael Shiraz, Coonawarra SA YALUMBA The Signature Cabernet Shiraz, Barossa SA YARRA YARRA VINEYARD The Yarra Yarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Yarra Valley VIC
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
Seppelt Jaluka Chardonnay 2009 $22–$27 Drumborg Vineyard, Henty, Victoria A generation ahead of his time, Karl Seppelt planted a vineyard for the then family company at Drumborg in 1964. It’s a cold site, near Portland in southwestern Victoria. Some say it’s the first landfall north of Antarctica. The vineyard grows beautiful chardonnay – high in natural acid, with intense flavours at the cool, grapefruit and melon end of the spectrum. Winemaker Emma Wood fermented and matured the wine in a mix of new and seasoned oak barrels, adding attractive but subtle complexities to one of the best value whites in Australia.
Zarephath Riesling 2007 $25 Porongurup, Western Australia As the 2010 rieslings come on stream it’s refreshing to come across a maturing wine, currently available at Sage Restaurant or direct from Zarephath Wines, located in the very cool Porongurup region, just north of Albany – see www.zarephathwines.com). The pale colour belies its three years’ age. But the age becomes apparent in the intense, citrusy aroma with its little edge of “kero”, commonly seen in aged rieslings. The palate, however, pulses with life – it’s powerful, juicy, taut, lively, and steely dry, with a distinctive lime-like varietal flavour.
McWilliams Hanwood Estate Shiraz 2008 $9–$12 Gundagai, Hilltops, Heathcote, Limestone Coast, Orange, Riverina, Western Australia and Yarra Valley The label bears only the broad appellation, Australia. Typically this indicates a blend from many regions. And in the case of well-resourced companies like McWilliams the mix includes components from some of our best regions. These add depth to components from higher-yielding vineyards. The combination means good flavour at a low price. The result, in Hanwood, is a fragrant, generously fruity red showing pure, high-toned varietal flavour and the round, soft tannins necessary for early drinking. This is a very, very good red at the price.
Capital Wines Ministry Series “The Foreign Minister” Sangiovese 2009 $25 Pialligo, Australian Capital Territory This is Capital Wines’ first sangiovese – sourced from three clones of the variety, including two of the noble “Brunello”, grown at Pialligo Estate. It’s pale-to-medium in colour and the aroma and flavour reveal the appealing fruitiness of the 2009 vintage – a character shining through across all the red varieties I’ve tasted. Although it’s medium bodied, there’s good, fleshly depth to the berry fruit flavours; and these are held in check by fine, savoury tannins and high acidity. The acidity adds to the structure and boosts the brightness of the fruit flavours.
Terra Felix Sagrantino 2009 $21.50 Euston, New South Wales It’s been almost twenty years since I’ve had the pleasure, but I still recall the palate-wrenching, tannic grip of Sagrantino di Montefalco – a sturdy, impenetrably inky-black drop from Umbria, Italy. Winemaker Terry Barnett’s version starts more seductively than the Italian original. It’s highly aromatic, combining pure, sweet berry aromas with a touch of spice. So far, so good. The palate starts with the same delicious fruitiness – then the jaws of tannin snap shut. The tannin, however, doesn’t swamp the fruit entirely and we find ourselves coming back again and again for just one more glass.
Domaine A Pinot Noir 2006 $70 Coal River Valley, Tasmania Dense, crimson-rimmed Domaine A seems in a different pinot orbit than its Australian peers. It’s not pale. It’s not strawberry aromatic. And it’s not soft and rearing to go now. In pinot, deep colour sometimes points to over-extraction and hardness. But in Domaine A it’s a prelude to an extraordinary concentration of aroma and flavour – a deep, sweet, ripe, chewy opulence that grows over time: layers and layers of interwoven powerful fruit and powerful tannin. It’s balanced and you can drink it now. But it’s really built to cellar and I suspect it’ll do so with distinction.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
Pigs Fly Pale Ale 330ml $3.99 Pigs Fly, the inaugural brew from Bowral Brewing Company (founded 2005), is in the English pale ale style – combining rich malt, high-toned fruitiness, boosted by hops aroma, and lingering, well-balanced hops bitterness. It’s been very consistent over the years and pushes the “complex” and “very drinkable” buttons at the same time.
William Bull William’s Pale Ale 330ml $3.69 De Bortoli makes this complex, quaffable brew at their William Bull brewery in Griffith, New South Wales. It’s pale lemon coloured and highly aromatic with a light but tasty and very brisk palate. The tangy freshness comes from “sharp carbonation” and terrifically clean, lingering hops bitterness.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
Freeman Hilltops Fortuna 2009 $22–$25 Fortuna is a very smart, unusual and lovely blend sourced from five varieties grown on Dr Brian Freeman’s old vines in the Hilltops region. Freeman writes, “It is inspired by the aromatic white wines of two regions of northern Italy – Friuli and Alto Adige, a textural wine crafted from pinot gris, riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and a smidge of aleatico”. The blend works spectacularly well in the outstanding 2009 vintage. It’s highly aromatic with matching intense fruit flavour. However, it’s richly textured and savoury, too; and a firm (but gentle) bite of tannin lends and Italian touch to the finish.
HenschkeBarossa Keyneton Euphonium 2008 $48 Littlehampton Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris 2009 $34
In March 2008 an unprecedented, prolonged burst of scorching heat sent grape sugars soaring across the Barossa. Winemakers scrambled to harvest their grapes. But after initial pessimism, we’re seeing some decent wines from the vintage, including this elegant Eden and Barossa Valleys blend of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. It’s in the deeply flavoured but elegant Henschke style, with firm, persistent tannins suggesting a medium-term cellaring. The pinot gris shows the extra fruit richness of the benign 2009 vintage and a complex textural richness derived from maturation on spent yeast cells. It’s one Australia’s leading examples of this style.
Morambro CreekPadthway Shiraz 2008 $26–$28 Jip Jip Rocks Padthaway Shiraz 2009 $16–$18 Jip Jip Rocks Padthaway Shiraz Cabernet 2009 $16–18
Remember Padthaway – the huge sea of vines about an hour’s drive north of Coonawarra? Its grapes feed mainly into multi-regional blends, but over the years we’ve seen many very good regional varietals under the Lindemans, Stonehaven, Orlando Lawsons and other names. Morambro Creek is an independent operator in the region (see www.morambrocreek.com.au), making good value, generally elegant wines. In the hot 2008 vintage, the flagship shiraz seems notably fuller and more tannic than usual, still with an appealing, complex core of sweet and savoury fruit. The lower priced Jip Jip wines, from the milder 2009 vintage, show more traditional elegance and suppleness.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
The late Douglas Lamb, wine merchant and bon vivant, delighted in serving Cognac balloons of single malt whisky to dinner guests. The power of suggestion being so great, few twigged to Lamb’s little trick. Indeed, they often congratulated Lamb on a fine Cognac selection.
Presumably Lamb served one of the less peaty malts, perhaps The Macallan, from Speyside. But whatever it was, guests appreciated the beauty, purity and complexity of a double-distilled, cask-aged spirit.
They’re characteristics shared by good malt whisky and Cognac, a fine grape brandy. Side by side, though, they’re quite unlike and I’m sure Lamb’s guests adjusted their brains, and taste buds, when the bottle appeared.
In Lamb’s day “single malt” generally meant whisky from one of Scotland’s renowned producing regions – Campbelltown, the Highlands, Speyside, the Lowlands and the islands of Arran, Jura, Mull, Orkney, Skye and Islay.
These areas all produce distinctive malts. And even within the regions flavours vary from maker to maker. Some of the important variables are the water and level of peat influence in it, the type of malted barley, its level of toasting and whether it’s been influenced by peat smoke, the type of barrel used for maturation, the length of maturation and the location of the barrel warehouse – proximity to the sea, for example, can add a tangy note.
If the focus remains mainly on Scotch single malts, today’s enthusiasts cast their tastes more widely. For example, among the 73 malts ranked by the Malt Whisky Society of Australia in August, there were 18 from Australia and one, Yamazaki, from Japan. Surprisingly, there were none from Ireland.
These enthusiasts, though, remain well ahead of the general market as you’ll find if you seek an Australian malt in Canberra. Some have made their way here. Jim Murphy, for example, briefly carried Melbourne’s Bakery Hill, but staff at the Fyshwick Market’s outlet say there’s been no demand since selling their stock of two bottles. Jim Murphy currently offers 23 single malts, including Japan’s Moutai, at Fyshwick and an “additional 10 to 15 at the airport shop”.
Dan Murphy, the Woolworth’s-owned chain currently offers no Australian malts. But Luke Grima, group business manager for spirits and ready-to-drinks, says they’ll be ranging a few soon. Tim Carroll, spirits and ready-to-drinks category manager from rival Coles, says their Vintage Cellars outlets have two on range – Limeburners, from the Great Southern Distillery in Albany, Western Australia, and Bakery Hill, from Melbourne.
Grima reports market growth in the last year for malts at Dan Murphy of 15 per cent, though it remains a niche in relation to the total whisky market. He says the group’s buying is based on consumer demand and market trends and they offer a base of 70 products. But, he writes Grima, “we encourage feedback from store managers and customers and have a process where they can request products. We would then source for them”.
Likewise Coles buying for its Liquorland, 1st Choice and Vintage Cellars stores is centrally managed. The Vintage Cellars stores, says Carroll, are obliged to carry a range of 50 malts, but managers have some discretion to carry more to meet local demand.
The limited malt offerings of most retailers and even of the bigger, high turnover chains, simply reflects demand in the general population. It simply isn’t profitable for these retailers to tie up money in stock that sits there gathering dust.
This, of course, opens the door for niche operators, generally knowledgeable enthusiasts. Look, for example, at what Plonk, Fyshwick markets, has achieved with craft beer over the last few years. Enthusiasts flock there every weekend because the shop offers about 700 different beers, always offer something new and always provides something to taste. It succeeds by concentrating enthusiasts in one outlet. Canberra probably couldn’t support two Plonks.
Resident beer expert, Dan Rayner, says Plonk expects to achieve a similar result with malt whisky when they move to bigger premises in the new section at the market. And they have Australian malts in sight as well as the Scotch classics.
In the meantime, to explore Australian malt, it’s perhaps best to hop online and check out the individual websites for Hollyers Road Distillery (Burnie Tasmania), Nant Distillery (Bothwell, Tasmania), Sullivan’s Cove (Tasmania Distillery, Hobart), Lark Distillery (Hobart), Bakery Hill Distillery (Melbourne), Timboon Railway Shed (Timboon, Victoria) and Smiths (part of Yalumba, Angaston, South Australia). They should be able to point you to stockists, or to sell direct.
For other malts, your local store might be able to order in as there are many importers, especially of Scotch malts.
It’s also worth checking www.singlemalt.com.au – a comparatively new direct seller, sourcing some whiskies direct and others from established importers. A press release from the owners, Brad Wright and Andy Anderson, says they’re currently importing 100 cases a month and heading off shortly to find more. It also says they offer whiskies from Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, India and Ireland.
The website, however, offers only 58 malts and the five from Australia come from just two distillers – which points to a business in the making, rather than one that’s arrived, and perhaps a step or two behind its press release. It does, however, offer interesting details of each whisky.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
Henschke Louis Semillon 2009 $28 Eden Valley, South Australia Named for the late Louis Edmund Henschke, this light-bodied, bone-dry semillon comes from 50-year-old vines on a Henschke vineyard. Like the Hunter style, it’s tank fermented, never goes near oak and is bottled early to preserve the fruit flavour. However, it’s slightly fuller than the Hunter style, with the distinct aroma and flavour of warm-grown semillon – somewhere between lemongrass and wet hessian. Don’t be put off by the latter, though, as there’s a zesty, tart, lemony tang setting Louis apart from other wines. Would be terrific with delicate fish.
Innocent Bystander Chardonnay 2009 $19.95 Yarra Valley, Victoria Winemaker Steve Flamsteed writes that in the bushfire, smoke-damaged 2009 vintage Innocent Bystander destroyed all of their reds because “nothing made the cut” – but salvaged small quantities of whites through selective hand harvesting and gentle winemaking. The lovely chardonnay we see eighteen months after the fire delivers pure, varietal citrus and melon flavours, set in a textural richness derived from 100 per cent barrel fermentation and maturation. It’s rich, but not heavy, with lively natural acidity.
Picardy Merlimont 2008 $48 Pemberton, Western Australia This is Dan Pannell’s occasional, special blend of merlot (58 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (26 per cent) and cabernet franc (16 per cent). It’s a beautiful, limpid wine, square in the refined, elegant St Emilion style. Merlot sets the rich, earthy flavour tones, but cabernet franc adds to the aroma intensity, while cabernet sauvignon contributes to the elegant but firm structure. It’s a complex, more-ish wine with a modest (for today) alcohol level of 13.5 per cent. While it drinks well now, it’ll probably evolve well for another decade.
Mount Majura Tempranillo 2009 $35 Mount Majura, Australian Capital Territory If first impressions count, then Frank van de Loo’s latest tempranillo ranks among the best of the variety in Australia. At first opening the wine impressed for its pure, plush, fruit flavour – a characteristic, it seems of Canberra’s 2009 reds in general. A few days later, pleased we hadn’t quaffed the whole bottle on day one, we sipped on, savouring the intense, blueberry-like varietal flavour and delicious, savoury, persistent tannins. It’s only a matter of time before Spain’s tempranillo variety moves from niche to mainstream. It’s certainly at home on Mount Majura.
Henschke Tappa Pass Shiraz 2007 $80 Eden and Barossa Valleys, South Australia This is a one-off Henschke blend, sourced from growers in the Tappa Pass and Light Pass areas of the adjoining Barossa and Eden regions. Although matured in about 60 per cent new oak, the luxurious fruit simply gobbled the oak up, morphing into a wine of great dimension. In style, it sits between the hot Barossa and slightly cooler Eden – with vibrant, dark berry flavours, tinged with liquorice and spice, layered with soft tannins, and made complex by the subtle, integrated oak. It’s sealed with the German-developed glass Vino-Lok.
Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2010 375ml $35 Auburn, Clare Valley, South Australia Winemaker Stephanie Toole produces two Clare Valley rieslings – a shimmering, lime-like, dry version from her Watervale vineyard (reviewed in Relax last Sunday) and this unique sweetie from nearby Auburn. Cutting the canes, or cordons, of the vines causes the grapes to become sweeter, while retaining pure varietal flavours and high acidity. The result is a pristine, varietal riesling with crisp acidity and very high sugar levels. It delivers dessert wine sweetness without the aid, or extraneous flavours, inserted by botrytis cinerea (noble rot).
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
d’Arenberg McLaren Vale “The Dead Arm” Shiraz 2007 $60 Grab a magnifying glass and you can read a lovely back-label treatise on the fungus “eutypa lata” and how it reduces an arm of the vine to dead wood (the dead arm) while the other side of the vine bears small crops of grapes of “amazing intensity”. You can read on and learn all the winemaking details. Better still, you can then twist the cap off and savour this extraordinary red, with some understanding of its origins and the traditions behind its making. It’s dense, deep, vibrant and layered with ripe fruit and tannin – but at the same time it’s savoury, earthy and satisfying.
Mount Majura Canberra DistrictRiesling 2009 $21 Chardonnay 2009 $21 Pinot Gris 2010 $23
There’s great value here from winemaker Frank van de Loo at Mount Majura. The wines are all estate-grown and made. Riesling 2009 looks young, taut and fresh at 18 months, a bone-dry aperitif riesling with a zesty, lemony dryness. The chardonnay shows generous nectarin- and-melon varietal flavours backed by a rich, fine texture derived from barrel fermentation and maturation. It’s taut, fresh and structured to age well in the medium term. The pinot gris flaunts its youth with a high-toned, musk-edged aroma – but, under that, the crisper pear like varietal character lurks, ready to take over after a few months bottle age.
Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2010 $30 Henschke Julius Eden Valley Riesling 2010 $31 The variable and early 2010 vintage seems to be throwing out some terrific rieslings like this contrasting pair from Watervale, Southern Clare, and the Eden Valley, a little to the south of Clare, but also on the Mount Lofty Ranges. The green-tinted Mount Horrocks, made by Stephanie Toole, offers shimmering, lime-like varietal flavour and matching, bracing acidity. It’s an exciting riesling, good as an aperitif now but probably destined for a long life in the cellar. Henschke’s wine leans more to riesling’s floral side, with a slightly rounder, softer palate than the Clare wine. But it’s a wine of great depth and with proven cellaring potential.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot 2008 $105 Margaret River, Western Australia What a contrast on the tasting bench – an ink-black, 14.9 per cent alcohol $75 Coonawarra cabernet and Cullen’s limpid, 12.5 per cent alcohol $105 cabernet merlot blend. I’ve no objection to the blockbuster. But, oh my, how can anything beat Cullen’s subtle elegance? Despite the low alcohol, it’s perfectly ripe, with not a trace of the leafiness cabernet sometimes has. Vanya Cullen attributes the ripeness at low alcohol level to structural changes in the soil resulting from biodynamic management – and fastidious berry selection. This is a beautiful wine with the depth and structure to age gracefully for decades.
Champagne Lanson Gold Label Brut Vintage 1998 $68–$85 Champagne, France In the right conditions, Champagne ages gracefully for many decades – protected by low cellaring temperatures, high acidity, yeast lees and dissolved carbon dioxide. Throw in the region’s unique, beautiful fruit flavours and you get the incomparably mature but fresh delicacy seen in this 12-year-old Lanson. The high acidity’s still there freshening up the deliciously honeyed, mature fruit flavours. In the context of Champagne it’s not of the first order – but it’s knocking on the door, and certainly trumps any Australian bubbly. Imported by Woolworths for Dan Murphy.
Kilikanoon Mort’s Block Riesling 2009 $20–$32 Watervale, southern Clare Valley, South Australia It’s sold out at cellar door, but we bought our bottle at Candamber, Civic, en route to Flavours of India restaurant. What a perfect wine it was for the hot and spicy food. That’s generically true of dry and semi dry riesling, thanks to its pure fruit flavour and crisp acidity. But Kilikanoon went the extra yard, offering really intense, delicious varietal flavour and a pleasing textural richness that comes to good riesling after a year or two in bottle. Should drink beautifully for a decade at least.
Oakridge “The Parish” Shiraz 2008 $23–$33 Yarra Valley, Victoria In a recent masked tasting this tasty, supple shiraz rated a tad behind Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Shiraz 2008 (Hawkes Bay, New Zealand), but a length ahead of Hungerford Hill Tumbarumba Shiraz 2008. They were three very good, graceful cool-climate styles. The Oakridge wine focuses on fresh, pure, bright berry flavours, layered with soft, supple tannins. Its softness and delicious, fruity flavours provide good drinking now, but it’ll probably drink well for three or four years. Oakridge makes it for the Coles’ Vintage Cellars chain.
Ant Moore Pinot Noir 2008 $29.95 Central Otago, New Zealand Ant Moore’s pinot comes without the fancy price tag of many of its Central Otago peers. While the colour’s mid-to-pale, it weighs in at a solid 14.2% alcohol and presents a solid, earthy, savoury face of pinot. The aroma and palate reveal full fruit ripeness, without the floral and musk notes we see in many local versions – it’s more vinous, with a touch of earthy “beetroot” and a savoury note from the oak. The palate’s full and finely textured with savoury pinot flavours and an assertive, tannic bite.
d’Arenberg “The Custodian” Grenache 2007 $19.95 McLaren Vale, South Australia Grenache is the backbone of France’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation and a star of d’Arenberg’s wonderful red line up – in tandem with shiraz in the classic “d’Arry’s Blend”. In “The Custodian”, though, grenache stands on its own. It’s earthy, rich and sweet fruited with a savoury dryness that goes well with food – a particularly good example that avoids the tendency to confection-like flavours that can be a turn off. In the concentrated 2007 vintage the savoury tannins feature more than usual, but as they’re backed by loads of fruit sweet, it looks to an age-worthy vintage.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
Sharp’s Special 500ml $8.02 Sharp’s, founded in 1994, brews at Rock, Cornwall, and specialises in cask-conditioned ales. This is a bottled version of its strongest brew – a deep-amber ale with opulent sweet, malty palate, complex (but subtle) roasted-grain notes and perfectly judged hops adding more flavour complexity and bitterness.
Southern Tier 422 Pale Wheat Ale 330ml $6.75 From Lakewood, New York, comes this distinctive, full-bodied, bottle-conditioned wheat ale. The aroma and palate both reveal more hops character than we normally see in wheat beers. But it’s a subtle, pleasant and balanced difference that works well with the full, sweet maltiness of the palate.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010
Search “Aland Islands” in Google maps and you’ll see the little group separating the northern Baltic Sea from the Gulf of Bothnia, between Sweden and Finland – at the same latitude as Helsinki.
Normally the islands mean nothing to beer drinkers. But the recent discovery nearby of what is believed to be the world’s oldest surviving beer puts it firmly in brewing’s history book.
The beer was discovered by divers attempting to salvage Champagne from a ship wrecked in the Baltic Sea some time between 1800 and 1830.
Rainer Juslin, from the Aland Islands’ ministry of education, science and culture, reportedly told CNN that the “culture in the beer is still living”.
Whether that statement’s based on science or guesswork isn’t clear. But Lion Nathan head brewer, Bill Taylor, believes that if there are viable cells in the beer, they’re unlikely to be what the brewer started with two hundred years ago, though it might be fascinating to grow a culture from it.
Taylors say he’s tried century-old beer, and “I’m not in a hurry to taste another one”. He said tasting the King’s Ale, brewed in February1902 at Bass Brewery, Burton-on-Trent, was fascinating and interesting. The Baltic find is likely to be in the same category.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010