Hahndorf Hill Winery Zsa Zsa Zweigelt Rosé 2012

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Hahndorf Hill Winery Zsa Zsa Zweigelt Rosé 2012

Hahndorf Hill Winery Zsa Zsa Zweigelt Rosé 2012

The only rules for this site are the ones I set, and they’re to do with the wines featured.  I pick the wines, I pay for them, and I drink them.   The Czar from was given to me by The Vinsomniac, but in truth it was a fair swap for what I thought was an interesting bottle that I sent his way.  I was not obligated to do so, but I decided to write about it because it was interesting.  Today’s wine is the result of another swap, whereby I passed along a bottle of a favourite South African wine and was more than repaid with some extremely interesting wine from a local producer.  And again, while I’m under no obligation to write about this wine, I can’t help myself because it is so interesting.  With that, I give you this Hahndorf Hill Winery Zsa Zsa Zweigelt Rosé 2012.

Hahndorf Hill Winery is based in the Adelaide Hills and has made a name for itself with some alternative varieties, as well as quality wines from more conventional grapes.  There were Blaufränkisch vines growing when Larry Jacobs and Marc Dobson took over the property, and they embraced the Austrian theme by planting Grüner Veltliner.  For more details, see the write-up of their Shiraz 2007 from last year.  The rule on this site is that I only write about a given producer once in a year, but I’m pleased that with the New Year I can now revisit some of my favourites.

I wrote a bit about Zweigelt last January and I’m pleased to have another look at the grape.  Even with varieties I’ve tasted before, I’ve recently had a bit more to say about them with the release of Wine Grapes.  Rare varieties are of particular interest to me, and as I’ve looked up grapes such as Ondenc and Petit Meslier, invariably in the entry will be listed the one or two producers in Australia.  As of right now, the entry for Zweigelt needs to be updated, as this wine is the first vintage of the first Zweigelt vines in Australia.

Zweigelt is primarily associated with Austria, where it is the most widely planted red grape.  It is a German crossing, which I wrote about with respect to the CedarCreek Ehrenfelser.  It originated in 1922, the offspring of Blaufränkisch and St-Laurent.  In addition to the plantings I mentioned previously in Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan, it’s also found in eastern Europe and British Columbia.  One of its synonyms is Rotburger, but it shouldn’t be confused with Rotberger, another German crossing but unrelated.

First vintages are tricky, as it’s difficult to know what to expect.  Zweigelt is typically used in Austria in the production of robust reds.  However, given the uncertain nature of first vintages, making a rosé instead may have been a canny move rather than ending up with a red wine that didn’t live up to varietal expectations.  The grapes for this wine were grown on Shiraz vines that were grafted over with Zweigelt, though with clippings now available there’s potential for fresh plantings as well.  I hope they will produce a red wine in the future.

The Adelaide Hills region is well known to readers of this blog, and now having covered the grape and producer, it’s time to take a look at the wine in the glass.

This wine is clear and bright, with a medium pink colour and a fairly viscous film inside the glass when swirled, but it didn’t really break into legs.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful with medium intensity and notes of red cherries, plums, red currants, a little white pepper, and a hint of beeswax.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus alcohol, medium minus body, medium plus intensity, no noticeable tannins, and a medium plus length.  There are notes of black cherries, a little lemon, strawberries, and some white pepper on the finish.

This is a very good wine.  It’s young and fruity, but it’s not sweet and there are some notes of zest and spice.  It’s nicely balanced in terms of acidity, intensity and alcohol, with a fairly high level of concentration.  It seems slightly warmer than the 13% ABV on the label, but there is some leeway allowed.  There’s good typicity in terms of the fruit profile, and it’s light on the palate as befits a young rosé.  Finally, while it’s certainly good to observe a wine’s colour, it isn’t usually something that I care about one way or the other, but it has to be said that it is an especially pleasing shade of pink.

Finally, the disclaimers:  First, I did receive this wine as part of a swap, but I came out ahead by at least a bottle.  That said, it’s not a sample – more that I encountered generosity that would have been rude to refuse.  Second, Larry Jacobs and Marc Dobson are two charming gentlemen I hold in high regard.  While I won’t write about wines from my employer or my wife’s employer, it would be silly not to write about a wine just because I know and like the people who made it.  To sum it up, I’m writing about a bottle which came into my possession under very favourable terms and was produced by people I like.  However, I’m writing about this wine under no obligation, and my assessment of the wine is based on what’s in the glass, not my relationship with the producers.

Parish Hill Frizzante Lambrusco 2009

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Parish Hill Frizzante Lambrusco 2009

Parish Hill Frizzante Lambrusco 2009

I wrote about a Lambrusco back in August and had very little interest in more of the same.  By “more of the same” I mean I didn’t want another  cheap bottle of mass produced red fizz, particularly when I keep hearing that there is good Lambrusco being made.  I will do a wine tour of Italy at some point, but in the mean time I was able to find an interesting bottle just by heading up to the Adelaide Hills with this Parish Hill Frizzante Lambrusco 2009.

[Apologies for the especially bad photo - the label is essentially red paint on a dark green bottle which looks fine in person but which does not photograph brilliantly.]

First off, as with a number of proper grape and location names, “Lambrusco” has been abused within Australia and generically applied to cheap, low alcohol, somewhat sweet red wine.  However, that is not the case with this bottle.  Not only is it made from grapes of the Lambrusco family, it’s specifically made from Lambrusco Maestri, which is worth a word or two.

Lambrusco, as I mentioned in August, is a collection of Italian grapes which are classed together as a family and not just different clones of the same variety.  Wine Grapes lists twelve distinct varieties, though it’s not clear if there are others yet to be identified.  The word “Lambrusco” apparently means “wild grape” in Italian, and it is believed that all grapes with that name in Italy were domesticated locally from wild grapes.

Lambrusco Maestri is thought to originate around, and take it’s name from, Villa Maestri in Parma, where it is used in both still and frizzante Colli di Parma DOC wines.  However, it is more widely planted in Emilia-Romagna where it is used in the production of a variety of wines at DOC and IGT levels.  In the New World, in addition to a very small number of plantings in Australia, it is grown in Argentina in Mendoza and San Juan.  While neither as popular as Lambrusco Salamino nor as well regarded as Lambrusco di Sorbara, it performs well in the vineyard as far as both growth and yields.  Wines of Lambrusco Maestri are often considered rustic but can have distinct strawberry notes.

Parish Hill Wines was founded in 1998 by Andrew Cottell and Joy Carlisle in the Adelaide Hills, and is somewhat unique in its dedication to Italian varieties.  Production is tiny, with a maximum crush of 15 tonnes and an annual production of roughly 700 cases.  All wines are made on site by Cottell from estate grown fruit.

They liken their site to Piedmont, and worked with noted viticulturist and oneology consultant Dr Alberto Antonini on their selection of vines.  While their wines include Pinot Grigio, Prosecco (Glera?) and Moscato which are fairly well known in the Adelaide Hills, they also have some less often seen varieties such as Arneis and Nebbiolo.  In addition, they have plantings of Dolcetto and Negro Amaro, which according to Vinodiversity are each only used by only a single other local producer, and they may be the sole source of Brachetto and Vermentino in the Adelaide Hills.

In the glass this wine is clear, bright, and frothy when poured, with a slight rim of bubbles after.  It has a deep purple colour and quick stained legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of blackberries, sour cherries, cough syrup, and a little liquorice.  On the palate it is dry with medium acidity, medium body, medium minus fine tannins, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol, and a medium plus length.  There is some slight spritz and notes of sour cherry, liquorice, and some earthiness.  It’s certainly not sweet, nor even overly fruity.

This is a very good wine.  It’s possible I’m being too generous as a result of such a poor first experience with Lambrusco, but objectively this wine has some richness, notes of complexity, and some flavours i can’t quite pin down.  It’s an interesting style, and it gives me hope that I might someday be able to taste a Lambrusco from an Italian producer of similar, high quality.

By Jingo! Adelaide Hills Montepulciano 2008

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By Jingo! Adelaide Hills Montepulciano 2008

By Jingo! Adelaide Hills Montepulciano 2008

I’ve been meaning to write about this producer since I tasted their wines at the Adelaide Cellar Door Festival back in February.  I kept putting it off though, because I know they have some interesting wines in the pipeline that might advance me in my quest to taste 100 varietals.  However, I swung by Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills a couple of weeks ago where the winemaker had set up a tasting, and this wine subsequently turned up in my neighbourhood bottle ship, so I decided that covering it now is more important than waiting on their next releases.  And with that, I give you the By Jingo! Adelaide Hills Montepulciano 2008.

In terms of region and grape, we’ve been to the Adelaide Hills many times, and somewhat surprisingly this is not our first encounter with a Montepulciano – I tasted the Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo back in December. Even more surprisingly I wrote a borderline halfway decent description of the grape back then.  But for review, it’s a red grape planted widely throughout Italy, producing wines that typically have deep colour and medium acidity, which are made without oak influence and meant to be consumed relatively young.  Also, it is not the grape used to make the wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – in that case the name refers to the town and the wine is based on Sangiovese.  I also should have mentioned back in December that it ripens fairly late and gives consistently generous yields.

As with nearly every grape variety I’ve ever described, someone has a patch of it somewhere in Australia, and By Jingo! is not the only such producer of Montepulciano.  Vinodiversity lists over a dozen wineries with plantings or wines made from it, largely in South Australia but with one in Victoria.  There are also plantings in New Zealand and California, though I think it’s fair to say they are all of very small scale and that the grape hasn’t yet really taken off outside of Italy.

By Jingo! is based in the Adelaide Hills, but I hadn’t heard of them until February, partly because they only celebrated their first year as a label this month, but also because they don’t as yet have a cellar door.  What I’ve learned about them since then is that they’re driven by a love of Italian varieties, with Montepulciano being their star variety.  The winemaker and vigneron, John Gilbert, got his start in wine by planting a small vineyard and taking a low level job with a producer in McLaren Vale.  He followed up with a winemaking degree, vintages at opposite ends of Italy in Alto Adige and Sicily, and work on other wine labels before this venture where he’s finally able to focus on Italian grapes in Australia.

In addition to this Montepulciano, By Jingo! has produced a Zinfandel and a Montepulciano / Zinfandel blend.  There is also mention of Nero d’Avola and Negroamaro on their website.  In addition, a Grillo has been produced but not yet released, which Gilbert apparently imported as a variety in 2001.  More conventionally, they also produce a Shiraz.

On top of that, they have a wine they call Mendoza, named for the Chardonnay clone used to produce it.  Not being a Chardonnay expert I can only relate that relative to the classic Dijon clones, Mendoza can have smaller berries with a greater skin to juice ratio at the expense of higher incidence of millerandage (hen and chicken) which is when you get very small berries mixed in a bunch of normal sized berries.  Both of of those factors can contribute to a richer style of Chardonnay.  By Jingo! describe theirs as having citrus and icing sugar characters.

I have a bit of a gripe with their naming choice.  The clone is named for the region in Argentina in which it is believed to have originated, and hence it’s an Australian wine with the name of a non-Australian wine region prominently printed across the front label, a practice once widespread throughout the industry here but now largely stamped out.  That said, they’re certainly not trying to pass off their wine as anything other than Australian Chardonnay, and most Australian consumers who know the region Mendoza will likely also have heard of the clone, so it’s perhaps only an issue if they export to South America.

Back to the wine at hand, in the glass, it is clear and bright, with a dark ruby colour and quick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of red fruit – cherries and plums – sweet spice, some star anise, and a bit of potpourri.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium acidity, medium soft, mouth coating tannins, medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, medium body, and a medium minus length.  There are notes of cherries and plums, and a cocoa powder taste and texture.  The texture might be down to it not being filtered and me not properly decanting, though it is by no means unpleasant.

I don’t taste Montepulciano often, but I had a look back at what I wrote about the one I tasted in December and was pleased to see the tasting note was more similar than different.  I’m happy giving this wine a rating of very good.  The fruit is still fresh, even after three years in oak, but some developed notes are certainly coming through.  The time in oak I think is what sets it apart from how this grape is traditionally handled in Italy, and as such while it’s drinking nicely right now, I would expect it to cellar well for at least a few more years in contrast to the drink now style of Italian Montepulcianos.  I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of their range released, particularly varieties I have not yet tried.

Hahndorf Hill Winery Shiraz 2007

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Hahndorf Hill Winery Shiraz 2007

Hahndorf Hill Winery Shiraz 2007

I have a backlog of almost 20 wines I’ve tasted but for which I haven’t written a post.  It’s a good problem to have, in that I’m not stuck writing about whatever is in my glass on a given night.  Instead I can decide to pick a new variety or region, or revisit something familiar.  Sometimes though, I just have to write about the wine I’ve most recently tasted, and tonight it’s the Hahndorf Hill Winery Shiraz 2007.

As both Shiraz and the Adelaide Hills are familiar topics in this blog, this post will focus more the producer.  First though, I must disclose that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the owners on several occasions and they’ve been supportive of my efforts here.  That said, If I can avoid it, I don’t bother writing about a wine I didn’t enjoy, and if I didn’t like this one I’d be writing about something else.

But before I get to that, first a word about Hahndorf.  It’s a somewhat touristy town about 25km southeast of Adelaide in the Hills, and it draws in a fair number of visitors by making the most of its Prussian roots.  German themed shops and restaurants dot its main street, though there are plenty of cellar doors and cafes that would be at home in any town in the Hills.

Hahndorf Hill Winery has been run by Larry Jacobs and Marc Dobson since they purchased the property in 2002.  They arrived in Australia in 1997 from South Africa, where Jacobs had been an intensive care doctor before founding Mulderbosch Vineyards in Stellenbosch, and Dobson had been a journalist.  I first visited their cellar door in 2006 on my first trip to Australia and can still remember being greeted by a very friendly dog or two as I drove up.

On a subsequent visit, as I was learning a bit more about wine, I was struck by some unfamiliar grapes in their range.  In addition to the ubiquitous Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the increasingly popular Pinot Grigio, were Blaufränkisch (Lemberger) and Trollinger.  While popular in Austria and Germany, and therefore fitting in some ways with the proximity to Hahndorf, they were at one point the only plantings of either grape in Australia.

Apparently those vines came with the property, but Jacobs and Dobson turned Blaufränkisch, and the Austrian angle, into a distinct selling point, such that if anyone in Australia had heard of the grape, it was through their promotion.  I spoke a bit about the Austria – Australia cross pollination when I reviewed Mac Forbes, and Salomon Undhof / Salomon Estate produces wine in both countries, but Hahndorf Hill Winery went that bit further.  In 2006 they imported three Grüner Veltliner clones from Austria, paving the way for a dozen other producers, including K1.

Another facet of Hahndorf Hill Winery worth mentioning is their ChocoVino Experience.  Chocolate and wine pairings are very trendy at the moment, with the notion of terroir being broadly appropriated by single origin chocolates.  At their cellar door, they’ve put together a selection of amazing chocolates to taste with wines.  While I certainly don’t mind chocolates, I generally enjoy them more without wine, but fortunately they offer a chocolate only tasting experience as well.

Long time readers will not be surprised that I was favourably inclined toward Jacobs and Dobson from the moment I realized they were from South Africa, because I never get to talk about South African wine with Australians.  The fact that they’ve not only promoted alternative varieties in Australia but also imported Grüner Veltliner clones makes me an absolute fan.  If that wasn’t enough, they’re apparently working with Zweigelt, another red Austrian grape, with a rosé expected later this year.  However, not having any of their exotic varietals close at hand, and it being red season down here, I’m tasting their Shiraz.

This wine is clear and bright in the glass, with a dark brick red colour that only shows at the rim and in some colouring of the quick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity.  There are notes of red berries, brambles, sweet spice and a bit of liquorice.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus intensity, medium plus acidity, medium body, medium fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, and a medium length.  I could taste black pepper, liquorice, blackberry, and red meat from the grill with a bit of char.

This is a very good wine.  It is undeniably a Shiraz but in a very cool climate style, with some black fruit but at this point more of the developed characters that can be so delicious.  This is a perfect wine to go with a nice slab of beef that’s been on the barbecue for long enough to have some serious carbon around the edges.  It’s not a big fruit bomb, and given that it’s drinking so well with secondary characters as a five year old wine, I probably wouldn’t put this down to age for more than another few years.  Some red wine producers pride themselves on the years or decades that are required to properly appreciate their work, but for this wine I think it has just the right balance of remaining fruit and developed characteristics that you won’t regret having it right now or soon.

Paracombe Adelaide Hills Cabernet Franc 2007

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Paracombe Adelaide Hills Cabernet Franc 2007

Paracombe Adelaide Hills Cabernet Franc 2007

As regular readers may know, I’ve worked vintage the past three years in the Adelaide Hills, and a few times in between actual vintages I’ve helped out with bottling.  On more than one of those occasions that’s involved a trip to Paracombe where a mobile bottling line was set up, and the good folks there played host while we put our wines into bottle.  So in terms of full disclosure, I know some of the people at Paracombe and am grateful for their help in bottling, but if I didn’t honestly like this wine, their Paracombe Adelaide Hills Cabernet Franc 2007, I’d just write about something else.

I’ve enjoyed a number of Paracombe wines, particularly their Malbec, but as I’ve not written about a varietal Cabernet Franc before, I was drawn to this wine as I try to finish the second half of a century of varietal wines.  However, this is in fact the seventh wine covered which has had some amount of Cabernet Franc, from the small fractions of the Bordeaux style blends to majority of the Anjou blend.

Cabernet Franc is a red grape, at home both in Bordeaux and the Loire, though generally as a contributing grape in the former and as a dominant grape in the latter.  In the Bordeaux red blend, it buds and ripens before Cabernet Sauvignon, and can provide some insurance for when Cabernet Sauvignon fails to ripen.  It’s the primary grape of Cheval Blanc, and is more commonly found in Libournais than in the Médoc and Graves districts.

In the Loire though is where it is most appreciated as a primary grape.  In the central areas of Anjou-Saumur and Touraine it is the dominant red grape.  In Saumur it is the principle component of their red wines, though Cabernet Sauvignon and Pineau d’Aunis may find their way into a blend as minor components.  The same is largely true in Touraine, though blends are more common, again with Cabernet Sauvignon but also Gamay, and Côt (Malbec).  Semi-carbonic maceration is sometimes used in Touraine, which can soften the wine and reduce some of the green character associated with Cabernet Franc.

This is the tenth wine from the Adelaide Hills to be featured in this blog, so if I haven’t said everything I have to say about the Adelaide Hills, then I’ve just been lazy.  Rather than recap, here’s a retrospective – in terms of wines from the Adelaide Hills, I’ve written about three Chardonnays, two Pinot Noirs, a sparkling blend of the two, as well as a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Fiano and even a Grüner Veltliner.  It’s a diverse region, with a range of climates and altitudes, and more importantly an adventurous set of people growing many different types of grapes and making a similarly diverse collection of wines.  In addition to this Cabernet Franc, I could list another 30 varieties being grown, which means I still have a great deal of work ahead of me.

First, my personal impressions of Paracombe.  The first time I visited, I drove up in a rather low to the ground convertible with the top down and I was greeted by two enormous fluffy white dogs.  (In retrospect, they’re about the size of your average retriever, but they were taller than I was sitting in my car.)  Despite their barking, they were friendly and did not leap into my car and devour me.  On their property as your approach it from the road you drive past vines, but behind the main building winery is a paddock with livestock and sometimes the resident kangaroo family (when they’re not in the vines).  My guess is that the dogs approached the kangaroos with the same not unfriendly barking with which they greeted me, and the kangaroos took that to mean it was safe to stay.

Paracombe is a family run producer established by Paul and Kathy Drogemuller in 1983.  They run what I consider a medium sized winery, and by that I mean they have about ten to twenty times the everything (space, tanks, barrels, staff) of the winery where I’ve worked.  They have a range of roughly 15 wines, from a traditional blend sparkler, through Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in the white category, a Malbec, Rosé, and then a collection of reds including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Shiraz varietals, a Shiraz / Viogner blend and a red Bordeaux style blend with a dash of Shiraz.

I should write something about their vineyards and their philosophy of producing wine based on what’s on their website, but I can’t really approach what I’m reading there in the same way I would with a producer I didn’t know.  Instead, my personal impression of Paul Drogemuller is that he is a generous man of charm and character who produces (with the help of a very astute team) a collection of wines that are both very good and which do put their patch of the Adelaide Hills terroir in a bottle.  The one thing that is a mystery to me is why his wines don’t cost more.  Everything about the wine and winery is correct, the Adelaide Hills have a certain cache as far as regions go (though I have a bias), and the wines are fashionable varietals/blends.  That said, I think that about more than a few wineries I enjoy, so I should really keep my mouth shut and stock my cellars with bargains.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, dark ruby with visible legs.  On the nose it’s clean, with notes of spicy blackberry and blueberry – cooler climate influence?  There are also elements of cooked meat and violets – a fairly complex nose.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium acidity, medium plus soft tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium plus body, and medium plus flavour intensity.  There are notes of green peppercorn, ripe, fresh blackberry and blueberry, and more of the meat from the nose with a medium length.

This is a good to very good quality wine.  Very drinkable, but it could certainly enjoy some maturation and emerge with a more complex character.  It was almost sweet on the palate, but from the fruit not residual sugar.  One note which can cause complaints in Cabernet Franc wines is a green stem character, but I got none of it in this wine – only the green peppercorns.  I think this will age well, and I hope to revisit a bottle in a few years.

 

Grosset Piccadilly 2001

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Grosset Piccadilly 2001

Grosset Piccadilly 2001

There’s something to be said for using good examples, but for whatever reason I often do just the opposite.  For instance, a good first wine to cover from Barossa would perhaps be the variety for which it is best known – Shiraz.  The first Barossa in this blog was the Domain Day Garganega.  I’ve done the same sort of thing by writing about wines made in Australia by Frenchmen, wines made in France by Australians, and numerous other reversals of expectations.  It’s in that spirits I give you the Grosset Piccadilly 2001.

Another Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills, you may ask?  Made by an iconic winemaker known better from another region?  With a fair amount of bottle age?  If this sounds familiar, it is, as the Wolf Blass White Label Chardonnay ticks all the same boxes.  Am I just being lazy going for the same type of wine?  Having just written up a Picpoul de Pinet, I hope that’s not a serious question.  But I do have favourites, and while everything I drink, I drink for you, my readers, I think this producer is worth highlighting.

This producer is Grosset, in particular Jeffrey Grosset, the founder, owner and winemaker.  He established his winery in 1981 in the Clare Valley and has been focused on producing top quality wines ever since.

He led a campaign in the 1980s for the use of the word Riesling to be reserved exclusively to wines actually made from the Riesling grape.  Yes, these days that seems a bit of a weird thing, but as I mentioned when I opened some old Rieslings, Australia has long played fast and loose with place and varietal names, and at the time Riesling was treated both as a generic name for white wine (and therefore used on cheap, cask wines) and as a local name for whatever white grapes were being grown.   Clare Riesling was actually Crouchen, Hunter Riesling was actually Semillon, and you needed to find a bottle of Rhine Riesling if you were after the real thing.

He also was influential in pushing Clare winemakers to switch from cork to screw cap closures.  While screw caps had been launched by Pewsey Vale and then withdrawn after a lack of uptake by consumers, Grosset organized Riesling producers in Clare to switch to  screw cap as a unified front.  This Chardonnay, funnily enough, is under cork, though more recent bottlings seem to be under screwcap.

As you might have guessed, Grosset is best known for Riesling.  His Polish Hill is arguably the most famous Rieslings of Australia, and quite possibly the best.  It features in the second highest category, Outstanding, of the Langton’s Classification, with his Watervale not far behind in the next category down, Excellent.  While he does make other wines, including red and white Bordeaux blends and a Pinot Noir, it would be perfectly reasonable to think that I’d be writing about one of his Rieslings.  However, I happened to pick up this nicely cellared bottle of Chardonnay, and being a fan of Adelaide Hills wines, I would be remiss in not writing about it.

Quick disclaimer – the winemaker with whom I’ve worked the last few vintages has an ongoing business interest with Jeffrey Grosset, and therefore some of the grapes in this wine may have come from one of my boss’ vineyards, but given that I had never been to Australia in 2001 I had nothing to do with the grapes or this wine.

As I mentioned, this wine was bottled under cork and the cork itself was in good condition coming out of the bottle.  The wine is clear and bright, with a medium plus gold colour, and quick legs when swirled.  On the nose, it’s clean, has medium plus intensity and a fully developed character.  There are notes of old oak, porridge, honeycomb, butterscotch, and a savoury note I can’t quite place.  On the palate it’s dry, with strong medium plus acidity, a medium body, medium plus intensity, and medium plus alcohol.  It has flavours of lemon, sandalwood, sunflower, key lime pie, and some nuttiness.  It has a medium length and some honey on the finish.

This is a very good wine that has aged gracefully.  It’s very rich, with a softened texture, but still good acidity.  On the Grosset site there are tasting notes for this wine that are likely a decade old and it’s interesting to see what’s changed.  The cedary oak and lemony citrus flavours are still there, but the melon and tropical fruit are gone, replaced by nut and honey flavours.  The acidity has certainly allowed it to last a bit more than the medium term that the notes advise in terms of cellaring, and while I don’t think letting it sit another decade would be the best idea, it certainly has developed nicely over the last ten years.

Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010

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Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010

Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010

It’s been a bit of a busy week, between ANZAC Day on Wednesday and having a friend from overseas visiting on Thursday and Friday.  As such, I have not had a new post in a few days, which is not at all how I prefer to run this blog.  Rather than waiting until Monday to post something fresh, I’m instead going to write about something that’s relatively easy and familiar for me.  It’s one of my all time favourites, the Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2010.

It almost feels like cheating to write up this wine as I needn’t rehash the Adelaide Hills too much, and I’ve covered a number of other Chardonnays, but it does give me more time to wax poetic about Shaw + Smith.  But just to make sure I cover all the bases, a word about the Adelaide Hills.

The second wine I covered, the Ashton Hills Piccadilly Valley Pinot Noir, is from the Adelaide Hills, and as I said then, it’s essentially the hills due east from Adelaide, extending quite a ways north toward Eden Valley and south toward MacLaren Vale.  It’s generally considered cool climate (by Australian standards) and the soil type is sandy loam, but given both the size of the region as a whole and the variation in altitude from vineyard to vineyard, it’s worth looking into the specific location whenever possible.  In this case, Shaw + Smith makes this wine largely out of fruit from a vineyard they own near Woodside, which is pretty squarely in the eastern middle part of the region.  The soil there is sandy loam over clay with a shale base.

Shaw + Smith is named after the two founding winemakers, Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith.  Martin Shaw is one of the Australians who formed the core of the flying winemakers movement, whereby an individual winemaker would work vintage in several different locations, typically alternating between hemispheres.  Shaw himself has worked in France, Spain, Chile, Australia and New Zealand and continues to consult around the world.

Michael Hill Smith is likewise a winemaker of renown, but I hold him in special regard because he is a Master of Wine, and was in fact the first Australian to win that honour in 1988.  He founded Shaw + Smith the following year.  As someone freshly graduated with my WSET Diploma, the MW program is like a huge cliff face in front of me that I may someday strive to climb, and I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who has taken up that challenge.  In addition to winemaking, he has a background in running restaurants and apparently is a trained Cordon Bleu chef.  Somehow he manages to find time to contribute to wine education for the likes of me, and I’ve had the pleasure of attending a Chardonnay tasting and lecture he conducted last year.  (He gave a similar one this year but I couldn’t make it, alas.)  For his service to the Australian wine industry, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2008 by Queen Elizabeth II.  Hill Smith’s reaction was allegedly “Obviously, she has made a terrible mistake”.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating to describe him as one of the foremost experts on Chardonnay, and here is how he makes his.

As I said, most of the grapes are estate grown.  Much of the work in the vineyard is by hand, in particular pruning and picking.  Hand picking is essential as the next step is whole bunch pressing, that is pressing without destemming or (prior) crushing.  Machine picking typically gives you individual grapes (or in some cases, a pile of wet mush).  Whole bunch pressing is generally gentler, and does less damage to the skins resulting in less extraction of solids and phenolics into the juice.  You also tend to get less juice than conventional pressing, so it comes at a cost in terms of volumes.  Wild yeast ferments the juice in barrels of French oak, where it stays for maturation with extended time on lees.  Some barrels see malolactic fermentation.

Even though this isn’t the first Chardonnay to grace these pages, or even the first from the Adelaide Hills, a very quick word about the grape.  Chardonnay can be difficult to pin down.  It can consistently ripen to good sugar levels, and so it is successfully grown nearly everywhere, across a wide range of climates and soils, expressing a potentially huge array of flavours.  On top of that, it can be handled in many different ways, to produce still, sparkling or late harvest wines.  And within those wine styles, there are many different treatments that can be applied (or not) to Chardonnay with noticeable differences in the resulting wine.  As described above, the M3 is whole bunch pressed, wild fermented in oak, and then left on lees in oak for maturation, and it yields a particular style, but other winemakers produce quality Chardonnay from machine harvested grapes, no use of oak, specially selected, commercially grown yeast, and no time on lees after fermentation.  Some of those decisions are based on economics, and the M3 is not cheap, but others are purely determined by the style the winemaker is aiming to produce.  Oak, time on lees (especially with lees stirring), and malolactic fermentation can give more body, texture and softness to a wine, which you might want to avoid if you are after a flinty, more mineral Chardonnay with a lighter body and texture.

Shaw + Smith produce a small range of wines, certainly for an Australian producer. Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling round out their whites and they produce a cool climate style of Shiraz that is quite the contrast to the bigger, warm climate styles of the Barossa Valley and MacLaren Vale.  They also produce small quantities of Pinot Noir, though it’s largely only available directly from them.  It’s in contrast to the Sauvignon Blanc which is produced in relatively huge quantities but sells out consistently.

This wine is clear and bright in the glass, with a pale lemon colour and thin legs when swirled.  The nose is clean with a developing character and oaky lemon on the nose, with some green peppercorn and a bit of cream.  The palate is dry, with medium plus to high acidity, medium body, full flavour intensity, medium plus alcohol, and medium length.  The body has a certain softness – there’s substance to it, but with a very gentle texture.  Flavours on the palate include lemon, toast, and white pepper with a lime finish.  One component that’s noticeable for its absence is minerality, but this is not a steely, austere style.  Neither though is it a warm climate butter bomb.  It’s full flavoured with citrus and oak both, but neither overwhelming the other.  If anything, the oak is as much a structure as a flavour.

Obviously, I really like this wine, so much so that in the past I’ve purchased a magnum of Shaw + Smith Chardonnay (at auction) from before it was even branded M3.  While this 2010 is drinking very well right now, this is a wine that maintains its acidity over time, but picks up lovely honeyed notes as it ages.  While I don’t usually talk about price, as I said, it’s not an inexpensive wine.  However, it tastes much more expensive than it costs.  I’m guessing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the expensive oak that goes into this wine (or rather, that this wine goes into) is in some way subsidized by the huge volume of Sauvignon Blanc that Shaw + Smith also produce.  In any case, it’s a lovely wine, year after year, and well worth cellaring.

Maximilian’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Maximilian's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Maximilian's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

On my first trip to Australia, I remember driving through the Adelaide Hills looking for cellar doors and in particular, somewhere to eat lunch.  My girlfriend at the time and I became increasingly hungry and discouraged by our failure to find anywhere at all that was serving food.  Finally we arrived at Maximilian’s Vineyard, remarkable at the time for the emu fenced in a nearby field.  They took pity on our plight, and though their kitchen was closing, managed to provide us with a better lunch than we could have hoped to find.  Flash forward half a decade, and I pass their vineyard whenever I am on my way to the winery where I now work, and I was last at their cellar door with the woman who had been my girlfriend (now wife) on our first lunch outing after the birth of our daughter, who very obligingly slept through the whole meal.  Needless to say, I’m favourably inclined toward any wine from Maximilian’s Vineyards purely out of fond sentiment.  However, sentiment aside, I’m pleased to be drinking this wine right now.  And with that wordy introduction, I give you the Maximilian’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004.

I am, however, slightly embarrassed that this will be one of my shortest proper posts, as I’ve covered the Adelaide Hills to death and I don’t have much more to say about Cabernet Sauvignon at the moment.  That leaves me just to talk about Maximilian’s Vineyard, though really the discussion needs to start with Maximilian’s as a whole.

Maximilian’s is an establishment in the Adelaide Hills next to a town named Verdun.  It consists of a homestead that was established in 1851, and is surrounded by blocks of vines and paddocks.  The current owner, Maximilian Hruska, purchase all 36 acres of the property in 1974 and opened a restaurant in 1976.  It wasn’t until 1997 that the property produced their first wine, and they have a very limited production of estate wine, which is largely sold directly through their cellar door, located at the same property.

Winemaking is done by Max’s son Paul, who spent six years abroad making wine, in both the New World and the Old, before returning to the Adelaide Hills, where in addition to the family wine, also has a hand in projects with Grant Burge, Scarpantoni and Torbreck.  In addition to their estate Cabernet Sauvignon, they have a line of wines that goes under the label Madhills Wines which includes a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir, a Shiraz, and a Pinot Noir Chardonnay sparkler.

In the glass this wine was clear and bright, with a medium plus brick red colour and thick slow legs.  There was certainly some sediment – I should have decanted but it was a last minute choice and it hadn’t been stood up.  The nose was clean, with medium intensity, and a developing character.  It had aromas of red currant, menthol, tobacco, leather, and sweet spice.  The palate was dry, with more red currant, little iodine, cranberry, and some pork/bacon.  It had medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium alcohol, medium fine tannins, medium plus intensity, medium plus length, with a plum finish.

This is a very good wine, especially given that it is essentially an estate wine for a restaurant.  That’s not to say it’s the house wine – it’s certainly not.  I picked it up last year, and I do love it when you can buy wine that’s been cellared for more than just a year or two, particularly by the producer.  This wine still has fresh fruit, sharp acidity, and some fine tannins, so while I think it’s fully integrated, I expect that it still have room for improvement with more time in bottle.

Lucy Margaux Vineyards Domaine Lucci Pinot Noir 2008

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Domaine Lucci Pinot Noir 2008

Domaine Lucci Pinot Noir 2008

For as much of my brain that is occupied with thoughts of Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills, you’d think I’d be writing about one every other post.  Imagine my surprise when I went back and checked to find that I’ve only actually written about one varietal, from Ashton Hills, though to be fair, the Tilbrooke Estate sparkler has a fair whack of Pinot Noir in it as well.  So today the featured wine is the Lucy Margaux Vineyards Domaine Lucci Pinot Noir 2008.

Domaine Lucci is a trio of wines from Lucy Margaux Vineyards, which is run by the winemaker Anton van Klopper along with his wife Sally and daughter Lucy.  They grow Pinot Noir across ten acres in an area of the Adelaide Hills known as Basket Range, and have access to and fruit from a number of other neighbouring vineyards.  The produce a range of wines, including single vineyard Pinot Noirs, an estate Pinot Noir, varietal Merlot and Sangiovese, and a red blend.  That doesn’t really begin to scratch the surface in terms of what this producer is about.

The first thing to know is that Lucy Margaux Vineyards is run according to Biodynamic practices.  I think I made my personal feelings on the topic pretty clear last week when I spoke about the Marchand & Burch Bourgogne, so I needn’t get into that again.  Instead, let’s move onto the second thing to know, and that is that they practice natural winemaking, which deserves some discussion.

Natural wine and winemaking is something of a thing at the moment.  Broadly speaking, it is the belief that there should be as little intervention as possible by the vigneron and winemaker in the process of growing grapes and making wine, and that by not getting in the way, the wine is best able to express its terroir.  As with many high minded philosophies, it has noble intentions.  How it plays out though is where it gets sticky.

A big issue is that there is no standard for what defines “natural” winemaking, or perhaps the opposite is true in that there is no agreed upon standard and many competing ideas.  Common concepts to many definitions include things such as no irrigation, no spraying, no pesticides, no commercial fertilizer, no herbicides, no fungicides, no commercial yeasts, no fining, and no filtering.  Some definitions also include things such as no mechanization in the vineyard, no pumping, and/or no sulphur at bottling.  The fact that different people can mean different things when they call their product “natural” is obviously a problem, but as a modern concept, natural winemaking is relatively young and if it is to move forward, that will be sorted out with time and possibly some standards body.

Unfortunately, “natural” is a terrible term to describe wine.  First off, it is unnecessarily divisive, in that the inverse is “unnatural” – the obvious label that could be applied to anyone who isn’t calling their wine “natural”.

But more than that, it’s not an accurate term.  A vineyard is about as natural as a Christmas tree farm, with perfectly controlled vine density and row spacing.  Furthermore, a vineyard of Vitis vinifera Pinot Noir in the Adelaide Hills is about as natural as a Douglas Fir Christmas tree farm in the Sahara.  Worse still, the practice of cultivating a single variety or clone, over and over, across hundreds, thousands or millions of vines through cuttings (as opposed to planting seeds) is one of the most unnatural things I can imagine.  It would be like cutting off your arm and having it grow into your clone instead of just having a child.  Vines don’t produce grapes for wine – vines produce grapes to carry seeds to make more vines.  It’s a similar story in the winery, where if by some natural process a pile of grapes were to find themselves heaped together in some vessel and underwent fermentation, it would very naturally move from that brief moment when it was wine to something completely undrinkable.  The most perfect butterfly, at the peak of its beauty, is not naturally found contained in a 750ml bottle, or if it is, it doesn’t stay beautiful for long.

So should we only make wine from wild grapes, and drink it right out of the vats when fermentation is finished? No, but then I’m very comfortable with winemaking as an example of humanity bending nature to its will, because that’s exactly what it is.  Calling any wine “natural” is just a lie.

So you might think, therefore, that I hate natural wine, but you’d be wrong.  I hate the term, but I agree that “less is more” with regards to winemaking can be beautiful.  One thing that Stephen Pannell said of winemaking at the tasting earlier this week was “it’s harder to do nothing than to do something” and I think that’s absolutely true.  The temptation always exists to employ the winemaking tricks to make just the wine you want, and for some styles of wine, that’s exactly the right thing to do.  However, if you’re making a high quality wine of a very specific place, the more difficult task of staying out of the way of the wine can be the better thing to do.

So what does any of this have to do with the wines of Lucy Margaux Vineyards?  They in fact are making high quality wine of a very specific place.  They adhere to most of what I described above in terms of natural wine practices, with no irrigation of vines, no applications of chemicals to the soil, vines, or wine, and no fining, filtering (except for their rosé to prevent in-bottle fermentation) or even pumping.  Say what you will as to the impact that any of those practices individually have on the resulting wine, but taken collectively a huge amount of care goes into the process, and I think that absolutely comes through in the wine.

Another thing to know is that Anton van Klopper is one of the members of “a collaborative experiment in natural winemaking” called Natural Selection Theory.  It’s made up of four  innovative winemakers based largely in South Australia.  Together they make what I can only describe as very interesting wines.  Some are fantastic expressions of texture and flavour, while others push the boundaries of what some people would consider drinkable.  But pushing boundaries is what they’re about, and if you want to try something edgy, it’s worth finding their wines and judging for yourself.

After all that, it’s time to actually talk about this wine in the glass.  It has a medium minus garnet colour, and both sediment and cloudiness.  I’ll take the blame for poor decanting as far as the sediment, but the cloudiness is likely because the wine is neither filtered nor fined.  On the nose it is fairly intense, with some signs of development, but much fruitier than I was expecting, with raspberry, some cherry, a bit of peppery funk, and sweet spice.  Overall it’s a very sweet smelling nose.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, flavour intensity, and alcohol, with a medium body.  The fruit is tending more toward the sour end of the spectrum (and developed in that direction in the glass), with sour cherry and cranberries, but still retaining the raspberry freshness.  There’s also the peppery funk from the nose, along with some dark chocolate.

This is a very good wine.  One complaint some people have with natural wine is that it’s often cloudy, and this one certainly is, but I value aroma and taste far above appearance, so it doesn’t bother me.  I chalk it up to style, not a fault, like volatile acidity in Chateau Musar.  Despite a somewhat light colour, the wine does not lack for concentration on the nose or the palate, nor complexity with fruit, funk and spice.  I recommend this wine without hesitation, just don’t try to tell me it (or any wine) is natural.

Full disclosure – I believe the vigneron/winemaker with whom I’ve worked this past vintage has sold grapes to Lucy Margaux Vineyards and they may be making use of one of his properties next vintage.

Pin in the map is Basket Range, but that’s as specific as I can get.

K1 Adelaide Hills Grüner Veltliner 2011

K1 Adelaide Hills Grüner Veltliner 2011

K1 Adelaide Hills Grüner Veltliner 2011

I spent the afternoon yesterday at the Cellar Door Wine Festival in Adelaide.  There were just under 200 wineries represented, with the vast majority (all perhaps?) from South Australia, with a few beer and cider breweries along for the fun.  It was a good chance to see what is happening in the local industry, though I did end up working for part of the day.

It didn’t look like many people were actually buying wine, and there were far too many people toward the end who were drunk (which obviously I don’t usually mind, except in this case when I couldn’t be one of them).  Sadly, I stayed sober, but I did pick up a mixed half case from six different stands, only one of which I’d had before.  I also bought a bottle of Kangaroo Island Spirits Gin, because nothing says you love wine like walking out of a wine festival with a bottle of gin.  I asked them for a straw, but alas, they couldn’t help me.

Many of the bottles I bought will likely feature here in the coming week or two, and this is the first, the K1 Adelaide Hills Grüner Veltliner 2011.  The others I picked up were likewise varieties less commonly found in Australia, and so with that, it’s time to talk about Grüner Veltliner.

You know you’re in the wine trade when you like Grüner Veltliner.  Or you could be Austrian.  Either way, you have excellent taste.  Good Grüner Veltliner can be everything that a white wine should be, from austere to perfumed, from mineral to spicy, from light and refreshing to very concentrated.  If you like Grüner Veltliner, and you know who you are, first off good for you.  But second, do not be upset at the fact that no one drinks it outside of the trade (and Austria).

No amount of convincing will bring the wine drinking world as a whole together with Grüner Veltliner to live happily ever after.  It is just not going to happen.  I can hear Grüner Veltliner fans disagreeing with me, but in their hearts they know it’s true because they’ve been trying for years to convince people it’s the next big thing.  Right after Riesling.  Without success.  The thing is, the problem is not with Grüner Veltliner.  There is nothing wrong with Grüner Veltliner that needs to be changed so people accept it.  People who like Grüner Veltliner need to accept that the rest of the world is not ready, and may never be.

So other than being the under-appreciated darling of the wine trade, and popular in Austria where it is the most widely planted white grape, Grüner Veltliner is actually gaining some traction.  In neighbouring countries in Eastern Europe, as well as with some brave souls growing it in New Zealand and Australia as well, acres of vines are growing year on year.  It is considered early ripening in warm climates, but within continental Europe, Austria is about the northernmost limit as to where it will ripen at all.  At its best, it can produce wines that are both aromatic and substantial, with ageing potential and depth of flavour and character.  Typical tasting notes stress minerality, body, and peppery spice.

I’ve covered so many wines from the Adelaide Hills, I don’t have much else to say about it as a region, except that it covers more area than most people might think.  K1 is in Kuitpo, which puts it about as far from Hahndorf near the center of the region as it is from the sea.

K1, or K1 by Geoff Hardy as it says on the label, is a winery in the southern reaches of the Adelaide Hills, due east from McLaren Vale.  The name Hardy is one of the biggest in the Australian wine industry, going back 125 years.  Geoff Hardy is of that family, of Thomas Hardy and Eileen Hardy fame, but did not join the family firm, opting instead to grow grapes independently, and quickly began to supply fruit to some of the region’s best wineries.  He also made small amounts of his own wine, and his reputation, independent of his family name, grew out of a cooler climate take on Shiraz.  While still a relatively small, family run producer, K1 has at least 23 varieties planted, and makes a very wide range of wine, red white and rosé, still and sparkling, varietals and blends.  Other less commonly seen varieties include Arneis and Gewürztraminer, and apparently there are Tannat, Fiano, and Teroldego vines planted though I am not sure they’ve made wines from any of the last three yet.  Actually, it was pointed out to me that the Tannat may be for a Pertaringa wine, another winery Geoff Hardy runs.  Maybe, maybe not as K1 is Adelaide Hills and Pertaringa Tannat is McLaren Vale.  I picked up a bottle of it yesterday, and look forward to giving it a go.

This is the third Australian Grüner Veltliner I’ve tried, and apparently there are at least a couple more available that I should seek out.  Unfortunately, I have yet to have one that lives up to what I think Grüner Veltliner should be, based on the Austrian wines I’ve had.

In appearance, it is industry standard pale white wine Pantone, clear and bright.  On the nose there are elements of lime, melon, white pepper, though not with particular intensity.  On the palate, there’s plenty of lime/citrus acidity, with a hint of lychee and green apple and a sour, candied fruit finish.  However, I do not get minerality that is so key to what I think of as Grüner Veltliner.  Also, it is lacking body, almost watery in texture.

Now all that said, when I see the K1 Grüner Veltliner 2012 on the shelves, I’ll likely buy a bottle.  And the 2013.  And the 2014.  I think this is a great grape variety, and I really want to see it do well in Australia.  If I hadn’t been spoilt by such excellent Austrian Grüner Veltliners, I might be happy with this wine.  It’s certainly not as green as one of the other Australian’s I’ve tasted.  But for now I think the vines need to mature, winemakers need to continue to work with the grape, and perhaps in time there can be an Australian Grüner Veltliner capable of rivaling its Austrian forebearers.