Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

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Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

It’s been a tough week and a half so far working vintage.  Early starts and long days are par for the course, so I can’t complain about them.  Equipment issues are more of a pain, with a pair of pumps needing repairs so far.  The worst for me though is the physical exertion, in stark contrast to my otherwise fairly cushy life, and this year it’s been compounded by an accident (which was completely my fault) involving a forklift, a barrel rack and my head.  Three stitches and a tetanus shot later later I’m fine, albeit with a black eye, but enjoying this (unrelated) day off to do some writing instead of just resting.  And what better way to make the most of it than with this bottle of Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010.

A grape familiar to any student who has covered Champagne, Pinot Meunier is something of a tough nut to crack for those of us interested in varietal wines.  First, within Champagne while it is the second most widely planted variety, it is not as highly regarded as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.  That means that while many houses use Pinot Meunier in their wines, few draw attention to that fact or produce varietal examples.  There are some exceptions, including Krug, though I have yet to sample one.  Second, as a grape it is not commonly found outside of Champagne.  It is permitted in the Loire, though not widely planted, and can be found in Lorraine near the border with Luxembourg and Germany.  Within Germany itself there are plantings but very few notable examples.  In the New World, there are fewer plantings still, and it’s typically used in blended sparkling wine with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  That makes this wine exceptional, as a still, varietal Pinot Meunier, before I even open the bottle.

As a Pinot, this variety is nearly identical at the genetic level to the other Pinots (Noir, Blanc, Gris, et al) except for the accumulation of mutations over the course of propagation through replanted clippings.  It differs from Pinot Noir in that it buds and ripens later, making it less susceptible to late frosts and therefore gives more reliable yields.  It also does well in clay soils, in addition to limestone, meaning it can be more widely planted throughout Champagne.  Furthermore, it can have higher acidity than Pinot Noir, though it isn’t thought to have as much ageing potential.  It’s easy to see why it would be a popular grape for growers, even if some houses prefer not to acknowledge their use of it.

Best’s Great Western was founded in the 1860s by Henry Best in the Great Western area of Victoria, roughly 180km west by northwest of Melbourne.  Best spent nearly 50 years building the business until his death in 1913.  Soon thereafter, it passed to William Thomson who had been running a neighbouring winery at Rhymney.  He and his family continued to expand the business, which is now in the hands of the fifth Thomson generation.

The company is best known for its Shiraz, with their Thomson Family Shiraz in their Icon Range featuring on the Langton’s Classification as Outstanding and their Bin No. 0 Shiraz as Distinguished.  This Pinot Meunier and a Pinot Noir round out that range, while their Concongella Collection and Great Western Range include more Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and a Dolcetto, in addition to a Champagne produced in a partnership with a small house in L’Aube.

The Great Western is a subregion of the Grampians in Victoria.  While there are a number of subregions described as pending approval or used informally, Great Western is one of only fourteen subregions in Australia officially recognized by the Geographical Indications Committee.  The region is moderate to cool, with a Mediterranean climate and some influence from the Southern Ocean and from altitude that ranges from 240-440m .  The soils are varied, but principally clays and loams with good water retention.

As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with a medium minus garnet colour and very slight legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful with medium intensity and notes of black cherries, some Pinot Noir funk, some black pepper, and some forest floor/mushroom scents.  Later, there were additional notes of dark chocolate and coffee.  On the palate it’s dry with high acidity, medium minus body, medium intensity, medium minus fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, and a long length.  There are notes of black cherries, liquorice, cranberries, coffee, star anise, and black pepper.

This is a very interesting wine, and I think very good quality.  If served it blind, my first guess would have been Pinot Noir with punched up acidity.  I was expecting fruitiness but that was not exclusively the case.  Instead it also has a fair number of developed characters despite only being two years old.  I can’t vouch for varietal typicity, but it certainly has complexity and it does linger on the palate.  While I’m drinking it far to young, I’m fairly certain they made more than just this one bottle so I’ll have to secure another.  And also, having now tried my first varietal, still Pinot Meunier, I honestly don’t understand why it isn’t more widely planted.  Apparently it’s also being used for more than just sparkling wine in New Zealand, so I look forward to finding out more.

Alpha Box & Dice Changing Lanes 2005

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Changing Lanes 2005

Changing Lanes 2005

Jean Dubuffet, a French painter and sculptor, described the concept of Art Brut* as “pieces of work executed by people untouched by artistic culture, in which therefore mimicry, contrary to what happens in intellectuals, plays little or no part, so that their authors draw everything (subjects, choice of materials employed, means of transposition, rhythms, ways of writing, etc.) from their own depths and not from clichés of classical art or art that is fashionable.”  Art Brut, also known as raw art or outsider art, is essentially work done by someone outside the artistic community, without the restrictions of accepted norms.  Today’s wine is a bit of Art Brut in a bottle, the Alpha Box & Dice Changing Lanes 2005.

Alpha Box & Dice is the work of Justin Lane, founded 2008, and home to an alphabetic collection of wines.  Essentially set up as a garage enterprise, Lane sources grapes from a stable of local growers and makes wines based more on his personal tastes than on established conventions.  While his “Hercules” Shiraz, “Rebel Rebel” Montepulciano and “Tarot” Grenache varietals may sound conventional enough, his “Apostle” Shiraz/Durif, “Fog” Nebbiolo/Cabernet Sauvignon/Tannat and “Golden Mullet Fury” Muscadelle/Chardonnay wines give perhaps a slightly better idea as to his unconventional thinking when it comes to what varieties might sit well together in a blend.

Mark Lane and Justin Lane

Mark Lane and Justin Lane

This wine in particular is a good example of Lane’s willingness to try something out of the ordinary.  Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon are not typically found together in Spain or France, but in Australia they’re fair game as blending partners.  Similarly, this wine is a collaboration with another winemaker, Justin’s brother Mark Lane, which again isn’t so out of the ordinary.  Mark sourced some particularly good Tempranillo, vinified it, and sent some of the best barrels to Justin, who was doing the same with Cabernet Sauvignon.  What is unusual is that Mark Lane works in Western Australia, some 3000km from Justin Lane in McLaren Vale, South Australia.  That makes this wine one of the most geographically diverse I have ever encountered.  In terms of wine being an expression of the varietal characteristics of the grapes, the terroir and the intention of the winemaker, this has all three, times two.  And while it has no impact on what’s in the bottle, the label features a lenticular print of mugshots of both winemakers, with the image changing depending on the angle at which it is being viewed and it’s easily the most creative label I’ve ever seen.

While I don’t typically comment on branding, Alpha Box & Dice does it well.  The convention they’ve established of wine names with an alphabetic theme works well, though it remains to be seen what happens after Z.  Each label is uniquely designed, and while they have little in common with one another, they sit well together in a group.  Even the cellar door has a quirky, rustic feel to it, which flows nicely from the old garage in the country where the wine is made.  Should it ever grow into a $500/bottle ultra exclusive, mailing list only winery, I officially call dibs on the parody label Art Brut & Dubuffet.

While Dubuffet used his term Art Brut to refer to art produced by asylum inmates and children, I use it in the more general sense of self taught.  In many ways this applies to Lane, as he has no formal qualifications in winemaking, and his approach to what can make a good wine is uninhibited by tradition or fashion.  That said, he’s not strictly speaking quite so much the outsider.

Justin Lane grew up in the Hunter Valley, and while not from a wine family, he spent much of his time in vineyards and after an abandoned attempt at studying viticulture, worked with Hardy’s and Tatachilla wineries.  Those experiences opened the door for him to work vintages in France, Italy and even Moldova.  In Australia he helped run a cooperative in McLaren Vale called Redheads Studio, which provided him with the network of growers needed to found Alpha Box & Dice after his partner bought him out in 2007.  He’s recently co-founded an eating and drinking establishment in Adelaide called Cantina Sociale that sources barrels of wine direct from producers and pours them by the glass.  While I don’t do bar/restaurant reviews, I’m a fan.

How does all this come out in the wine?  In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a dark garnet colour and quick, stained legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with high intensity and notes of sweet spice, dried red fruit, persimmon, pomegranate and strawberries.  On the palate it’s dry but with some fruit sweetness, medium acidity, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, high alcohol, medium minus fine tannins and a long length.  There are notes of chocolate, pomegranate, black pepper, as well as dried fruit, both red and black.

This is a very good quality wine.  It’s big in most respects.  It has much more fruit than tannin, and while some of it comes across as dried fruit, it’s much more fresh than I would expect 7 years after vintage.  It’s not for everyone – at 15.5% ABV it’s not a timid wine, but if you want a big fruit bomb that is showing itself to be capable of ageing, it’s a good bet.  So while Lane has no formal winemaking credentials, there is nothing about this wine that suggests he needs to go back to school.

* Art Brut also happens to be the band that played at my wedding.

Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012

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Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012

Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012

It used to be that I would keep my eyes open for interesting varieties, and be pleased when I happened to come across them.  Recently though, I’ve moved to the next level and I’m actively seeking them out.  Here is one I put on my list of wines I’d like for my birthday, the Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012.

So Clairette.  The name, which can mean pale, clear or bright, is thought to originate with the light hairs found on the shoots and the undersides of mature leaves, rather than with the pale colour of the grapes.  It is vigorous, even in poor soil, and grows unusually straight and strong vines, which do not require stakes even in areas of strong winds.  It ripens late and can produce high levels of alcohol, though sometimes at the expense of acidity.

It is at home in southern France, and gives its name to three appellations there:  Clairette de Bellegarde, Clairette du Languedoc, and Clairette de Die.  The first two are still, varietal wines while Clairette de Die is sparkling and typically a blend dominated by Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.  The same region produces Cremant de Die which is 100% Clairette.  It’s also commonly found in regional Vin de Pays of southern France, and can be a component of a number of Southern Rhone wines, including  Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  As evidenced by this wine of Australia, it’s planted outside of France, with notable concentrations also found in Italy, Russia, South Africa and even Lebanon.

Even though this is the first pin in the region on the map, this is not the first wine we’ve encountered from the Hunter Valley.  Unfortunately for cartographic accuracy, the Will Taylor Hunter Valley Semillon from last year ended up pinned in Adelaide where their offices are located, but the description of the region from that post is still viable.  As I mentioned in that post, while the region is identified with Semillon, there are a wide range of varieties planted, including Chambourcin which is on my list to try.

Honeytree Estate is a small producer in the Hunter Valley region.  It was planted in 1970 and now owned by Robyn and Henk Strengers.  Henk is originally from the Netherlands, and despite their boutique levels of production, some wine is exported there.  Their holdings consist of 23 acres of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Semillon as well as this Clairette.  Plantings of Traminer were grafted over to Clairette after the very successful 1998 vintage.  They’ve also produced something called Vindouce, and while the half bottle size, tasting note of luscious and low alcohol level suggest it is a dessert wine, I can’t find any firm details, though there is mention of ice wine on their Facebook page.

As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with a pale, pale lemon green colour.  I use “pale lemon green” quite a bit as these days it’s the industry standard white wine colour, but really, this wine is borderline water white.  It shows very small legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful, with medium plus intensity and bright notes of tropical fruit – passion fruit and rock melon – as well as grapefruit, some lime, and a little vanilla.

On the palate it’s dry, though there’s enough fruit that I had to taste it a few times to decided if there was any residual sugar.  I don’t think there is.  It has medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium plus flavour intensity, medium minus alcohol, and a medium length with a clean finish.  The palate matches the nose, with the grapefruit notes being somewhat more pronounced, but still with the tropical fruit – melon and passionfruit – as well as a hint of coconut.

This is a good wine – well made, youthful, and while it’s nearly all fruit, all the flavours are crisp and distinct.  While I hate myself for saying so because it’s such a cliché, it’s a perfect summer quaffer.  There is nothing present in the glass that doesn’t please.  If you’re looking for a serious wine with layers of complexity and great ageing potential, this is unlikely to satisfy, but if you want something to drink while the sun is shining, you can do much worse.

This is my first varietal Clairette, and my first Australian Clairette, so clearly I am not an expert on the topic, particularly when it comes to tasting.  However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say for the record that my first thought when I tasted it was that it was uncannily similar to a South Australian Colombard that I’ve recently enjoyed.  So while Wine Grapes doesn’t list any connection between Colombard and Clairette, it does make me wonder if it’s possible that some Colombard vines in South Australia are actually Clairette, or if some Clairette vines in the Hunter Valley might actually be Colombard.

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.

Wines by KT Tinta by KT Tempranillo 2011

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Wines by KT Tinta by KT Tempranillo 2011

Wines by KT Tinta by KT Tempranillo 2011

If you have a look through the list of grapes I’ve encountered on this blog, I’ve managed to find most of them as varietal wines.  It’s not that I don’t like blends – many of the great wines of the world are made up of more than one grape, and within the Old World most regions are dominated by blends.  However, this site has an emphasis on wine education, and I think the best way appreciate how a grape contributes to a blend is to first be able to identify it on its own.  More on that topic in the coming week or two, but for now we have before us Wines by KT’s Tinta by KT Tempranillo 2011.

This is the fourth Tempranillo to grace these pages, but only the first time it’s appeared as a varietal wine.  That might seem a bit strange, since it’s a well known variety, and in fact the classic red grape of Spain.  The reason is that within Spain it is commonly found as part of a blend.  For instance, within red wines of Rioja it is typically the major component with smaller portions of Grenache, Carignan and/or Graciano.

It is planted widely throughout Spain, under many synonyms.  There are considerable plantings in Portugal, under the name Tinta Roriz, where it is used in table wine as well as Port.  There are a small number of plantings in the south of France, largely in the Languedoc.  Officially within Italy there are no plantings, but DNA profiling has shown that some vines called Malvasia Nera are in fact identical to Tempranillo.  There are plantings in North America from a few vines in British Columbia, Canada down through the West Coast of the USA, as well as Texas and Mexico.  Considerable plantings exist in Argentina, though there is very little of it in Chile.  Its popularity is on the rise in Australia, though in New Zealand it’s unclear if the grape will take off from its small start.

Tempranillo itself is a fairly productive vine, producing darkly coloured berries with thick skin, in medium to large sized, though compact, bunches.  It buds and ripens early, and does better in dry climates than most.  As with many varieties, lower cropping levels result in higher quality colour and flavour, as well as acidity.  It can have relatively low alcohol, particularly with respect to it’s traditional Spanish blending partners.

Wines by KT is the label of Kerri Thompson, who graduated from Roseworthy in 1993.  Since then she has worked as a winemaker in Tuscany and Beaujolais, as well as in South Australia, most notably leading at Leasingham.  She and viticulturalist Steve Farrugia partnered on a label, KT and the Falcon, with a number of wines out of the Clare Valley.  While only her name is on the current label, she has worked closely with viticulturalist Bunny Peglidis who tends Riesling vines in Watervale.  In addition to producing her own wines, she is the winemaker at Crabtree.  At present she makes four Rieslings, two of named vineyards.  She also produces varietal Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and this Tempranillo, as well as a Shiraz / Grenache / Tempranillo / Mataro red blend, and a Tempranillo / Monastrell rosé.

Normally I try to say a word or two about the wine’s region, but this wine does not explicitly list an origin other than Australia.  Wines by KT is based in Clare, and while their website appears to be under construction, it’s a fair guess that most or all of the grapes came from there.  I’ve written about the Clare Valley before, so for more information it’s worth looking at the write up of Pikes Clare Riesling.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a medium plus purple colour – not deep purple but “grape juice of my youth” purple.  It shows thick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and just starting to show some development, with medium minus intensity, and notes of dried red fruit, cranberries, potpourri, and a bit of dust.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium alcohol, medium mouth coating tannins, medium plus intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of cranberry, dried simple red fruit, pomegranate, and a bit of cola.

This is a good wine, very much made in a young style.  When I tastes wines made from Tempranillo, the main note I tend to pick up is that the fruit always comes across as a bit dried.  I don’t know if anyone else gets that as a rule, but for me it’s the tell if I’m tasting blind that there might be a Tempranillo in front of me.  In that regard, this wine has good varietal typicity, at least for my palate.  While the alcohol was medium, I think some more of it might have given the wine a bit more body, but for having worked the 2011 vintage in South Australia, I think this one turned out pretty well.  There wasn’t a huge amount of complexity, but at least as much as you would expect from such a young wine.  And most of all, I’m pleased to add another variety to the century list.

Ridgemill Estate The Czar Saperavi 2012

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Ridgemill Estate The Czar Saperavi 2012

Ridgemill Estate The Czar Saperavi 2012

Today’s wine was a gift from a fellow wine writer, Stuart over at The Vinsomniac  It’s very much a curiosity, and while there are some things that can be determined from the bottle and the producer’s website, writing up this wine has left me with more questions than answers. If answers are found subsequently, I’ll certainly update this post.  And with that puzzling introduction, I give you Ridgemill Estate The Czar Saperavi 2012.

This wine is produced and bottled in Severnlea, which puts it in the Granite Belt wine region in Queensland, Australia.  For those not familiar with this country, Queensland is the state in the north east corner and is home to Brisbane, Cairns, Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast, and the Great Barrier Reef.  It’s the tourists’ image of Australia, with kangaroos hopping along the beach, and it’s not an image that lines up well with growing grapes for wine.

Obviously it’s much more than just that, and while there are certainly lovely beaches, it’s a big place.  To put it into perspective, it’s not just bigger than California – you can throw in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado and it’s still bigger.  Or if you prefer, it’s bigger than France, Spain, the UK, Ireland and Portugal combined.  Across the expanse of such a large area, there’s bound to be climate and soils appropriate for viticulture, which brings us to the Granite Belt.

Located in the south east of Queensland, centred on an area roughly 160km in from the coast, the Granite Belt has the coolest climate in the state, largely due to its elevation of 450m to 900m (with 810m being the average), though being nestled along the southern border helps as well.  It is the textbook definition of a continental climate with warm summers and cold winters.  Snow in the winter, while not common, is not unknown.

There are two main soil types – a brownish-grey speckled soil well suited to vines, and a sandy, granitic grey-black soil which is less so, both supported by deep clay.  Drainage is good, which is to say water retention is bad, and so irrigation is often essential.  Hazards include spring frosts and rain at vintage, though both can be mitigated with thoughtful site selection.

I started to write that the Granite Belt is a fairly young region, as James Halliday’s Wine Atlas of Australia dates the first wine grapes as having been planted in 1965.  However,  Granite Belt Wine & Tourism claims vines were first cultivated by an Italian Catholic priest in the 19th century and cites vineyards and wineries dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.  As a region, it is known for small producers making boutique quality wines, though some of its appeal is certainly wine tourism with easy access from Brisbane.  It’s also home to a number of interesting grape varieties, which are highlighted through the Strange Bird Alternative Wine Trail, co-founded by the Ridgemill Estate winemaker.

I’ve written about Saperavi twice before, with the Hugh Hamiliton Oddball of McLaren Vale, Australia and the Taliani Valley of Napareuli, Georgia, so I think it’s time to move on to the producer.

What is now Ridgemill Estate got its start as vineyards under the name Emerald Hill in 1998 with plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Chardonnay.  Tempranillo followed two years later, and in 2004 the property was purchased by the current owner, Martin Cooper who set about making some changes.  He hired Peter McGlashan as  winemaker and manager, rebranded the estate as Ridgemill, established cabins in the vineyards for wine tourism, and expanded plantings to include Saperavi, Verdelho and Viognier.  The current line up of wines includes varietal Chardonnay, Verdelho and Shiraz, blends of Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Merlot, and Monastrell / Tempranillo, as well as a Merlot rosé.  They also produce a sweet white wine, two fortified wines and a traditional method sparkling wine.  Apparently they also have plantings of Jacquez, which is banned in France.  How cool is that?

None of that is exceptionally out of the ordinary (except for the Jacquez), so what has left me scratching my head so much?  Primarily that the back label of this wine says that 60 bottles were produced, unfined and unfiltered.  Sixty bottles, five cases, or 45 litres of wine.  It’s an impossibly small amount, and I say that having worked three vintages with a winery that is effectively a one man band.  Saperavi is a reasonably productive grape, and as the vines were planted in 2006 I have a difficult time imagining their harvest only came to 60 bottles.  Then again, since this was released the same year it was produced, perhaps there is a 2012 reserve that will be released after further maturation.  Or maybe they sold off a portion of the harvest to another winemaker.

If there is no reserve 2012, then there’s the question of how you go about making 60 bottles of a wine.  Of the equipment I’ve used in a small winery, most would be overkill for such a small batch.  It would take more time to clean a destemmer than it would to process the grapes, and that applies to the crusher as well.  I can well imagine a very small kvevri, possibly a repurposed earthenware planter, as a fermenter, and as for pressing, I have seen some pretty small basket presses, but still.  This wine is unlikely to have seen the inside of a barrel, because except for tiny barrels for storing fortified wine at home, such small volumes are not easy to accommodate – a standard barrique would only be 20% full with 45 litres.  Bottling and labelling would almost certainly have to have been done by hand as the overhead cost of getting a bottling line running would be prohibitive.

All of that is pure speculation based on the label, so perhaps it’s time to have a look at the wine itself.  In the glass it’s clear and bright with a medium minus purple colour and quick, thick legs.  Interesting colour – in my experience if a wine is purple, it’s also fairly dark.  This one, while certainly purple, is not so dark at all.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful with medium plus intensity and notes of mulberry, some peppery character, blackberry, plums, a little soda pop and a hint of perfume.  On the palate it’s dry with medium body, medium plus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium intensity, medium plus alcohol, and medium length.  It started out quite candied with notes of cherry and bubble gum.  It developed somewhat in the glass, and other berries emerged, as did some chocolate and a bit of black pepper.  However, the fruit was still very candied – something from a sweets shop instead of a green grocer.

I don’t know what to make of this wine.  While I’m not an expert on Saperavi, I’ve had a few and this is nothing like those.  The colour, while purple, is not nearly as dark as I would have expected, particularly since Saperavi means “dye” in Georgian and is a teinturier, meaning its juice is coloured instead of clear.  The spectrum of berry flavours is fine, but the bubble gum and candied notes suggest carbonic maceration, which is certainly a possibility, particularly if whole bunches were used.  While I like a little of that in Gamay and some Point Noirs, I’m not sure how I feel about it in heavier reds like Saperavi.

Really though, I can’t properly assess the quality of this wine because it was a gift.  I generally don’t accept samples for review, and even though this wasn’t sent from the actual producer, I’ll keep my conclusion to myself.  However, I couldn’t resist the chance to write about a new (for me) wine region and a producer who is clearly innovating with interesting varieties.

Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010

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Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010

Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010

Closing in on a century of varietal wines, 76 with this post, it’s starting to be a bit more challenging.  Even though I’ve encountered 98 different grapes, over 20 of them have been only as components in blends.  There are a few that will be relatively easy to find as varietal wines, such as Prosecco and Tempranillo, but others such as Crouchen Blanc and Tibouren are rare enough in blends and nearly impossible to source as varietals.  Today’s wine is a grape that proved more difficult than I had anticipated to find as a varietal, despite it being a relatively common variety.  So I give you the surprisingly rare Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010.

Whenever I think of Cinsaut I am reminded of the first time I heard it pronounced out loud, which was well after I was familiar with the word on paper.  Unfortunately I was unable to connect how it sounds with the spelling, and came across as something of an idiot as a winemaker told me all about a grape which I had tasted numerous times.  It didn’t help that it can also be spelled Cinsault, and in Australia it can also be known as Blue Imperial or even Black Prince (among many others).

Cinsaut is a red grape of southern France, though there are plantings in the south of Italy going back centuries as well.  It has proven popular in the vineyard for a number of reasons.  First, it does well in heat and under drought conditions, which while generally a good thing, can be an extremely attractive quality in countries or regions where irrigation is not permitted or practical, and goes some way to explain why it is also cultivated in North Africa and Lebanon.  Second, it can produce generous yields of both big bunches and big berries, though there is obviously a trade-off to be maintained between yields and quality.

Outside of the Mediterranean, Cinsault is best known to students of wine as a parent of Pinotage in South Africa, where it was known confusingly as Hermitage.  It was the most widely planted red grape there for decades, only dropping out of the top spot in the 1990s, but not widely appreciated.  There are some plantings of the grape in the USA, particularly on the West Coast in California and Washington, and while not wildly popular within Australia, it is a part of some well respected red blends from Barossa and McLaren Vale.

This is the first wine on this site from Rutherglen.  Being based in South Australia, there’s certainly a local bias against wines from interstate in terms of availability, but Rutherglen has an international reputation and featured prominently in the WSET Diploma, albeit within the section for fortified wine.  Rutherglen is in Victoria, north east of Melbourne, nestled against the border with New South Wales.  It’s a historic region, with a wine industry that dates back to the first half of the 19th century.  The climate is continental with hot summer days but cold nights.  Broadly speaking, there are two main soil types, with a stretch of loam across lower hill slopes being favoured for the production of fortified wines and more widespread sandy soils in which grapes for table wine are grown.  The fortified wines of Rutherglen deserve their own article, so I will save discussion of them for when I have one in front of me.  The table wines though are typically big and red, with Shiraz, Durif and Cabernet Sauvignon being most widely planted for table wines.  Muscat and Muscadelle are widely planted for fortified wines.

Morris Wines was established in 1859 by George Francis Morris and he grew it to over 200 acres by 1885, making it the largest wine producer in the Southern Hemisphere.  However, the region as a whole was hit hard by phylloxera near the turn of the century, resulting in a great downturn and in the sale of the business in 1917.  However, the family remains involved in the operation to this day and the fifth generation, though the company is currently owned by Pernod Ricard Australia.

The company is best known, as is typical of the region, for its fortified wines.  Morris produces over a dozen though I hesitate to list them all as they have names like Vintage Port, Fino, Amontillado and Tokay which are in a state of flux (it’s complicated) and will wait until I’m covering Rutherglen fortified wines.  However, they do produce table wines of the big three red grapes, Shiraz, Durif and Cabernet Sauvignon, in addition to this Cinsaut, as well as a Chardonnay and a sparkling Shiraz / Durif blend.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a medium plus ruby colour and slow, thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of black cherry, plums, cranberries, and some sweet spice.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium body, medium plus alcohol, medium plus intensity and a medium plus length.  There are notes of plum, cranberries, black cherries, and a hint of liquorice.

I rate this wine as a solid good.  It had a strong fruit profile as befits a young red, and while it is fruit driven, it’s not just a bland collection of simple red fruit – the flavours are fairly distinct and complex.  It has more intensity on the palate than the nose, and the acidity keeps it fresh.  As this is my first varietal Cinsaut, I can’t say much about typicity, but it certainly hasn’t put me off the grape.  I’ll continue to be on the lookout for Cinsaut, even if I only find it in blends.

Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972

Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972

Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972

There was a tasting scheduled for Saturday and I had been looking forward to it all week.  Alas, it was cancelled at the last minute, leaving me with some unscheduled time that afternoon.  The tasting would have been some high end red wines of Australia, so rather than moping I decided to open up a special bottle of my own and conduct a very small tasting of the Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972.

I’ve covered both McLaren Vale and Cabernet Sauvignon several times, so today I’m just going to write about Hardy’s and about older bottles in general.  Thomas Hardy & Sons was established in 1853 by Thomas Hardy himself, having arrived from England three years prior.  The family business grew over the generations that followed, and through mergers over the last two decades with BRL and then Constellation, the Hardy Wine Company became the world’s largest international wine business.  More recently though, the group’s name was changed to Constellation Wines Australia, and then again to Accolade Wines with a change of controlling interest.  The Hardys brand though has remained well respected throughout the recent ups and downs, and remains one of the strongest in Australia.

Eileen Hardy OBE is generally referred to as the matriarch of the Hardy family, and a new wine was named after her on her 80th birthday, January 15th, 1973.   The honour was bestowed on the best red wine the company produced, and that year it was the Special Bin 80, McLaren Vale Shiraz 1970.  Two years later in 1975, the Eileen Hardy label graced this wine, a 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Tintara vineyards in McLaren Vale.  The tradition continued over the years that followed, though at some point it was decided that the variety would always be Shiraz instead of possibly fluctuating with each vintage.  With Eileen Hardy firmly established as a flagship brand, a Chardonnay was added to the line up in 1986 and more recently Pinot Noir made its first appearance under the label with the 2008 vintage.

I consider old wine a special treat.  As I’ve only been serious about wine for a few years, most of the bottles in my cellar are relatively recent vintages and I expect many will improve with time.  However, now and again I manage to pick up a back vintage, such as this one I purchased at auction a few years ago.

There are a few things worth keeping in mind when dealing with an older bottle.  If you have the time, it pays to stand the bottle upright and leave undisturbed for up to a day.  If under cork, wine is typically stored on its side to keep the cork from drying out, and so sediment collects on the side of the bottle.  Therefore it’s best to stand it up for a day to allow the sediment to settle at the bottom instead of in your glass.

If your bottle is under cork, here’s where it gets interesting.  After removing the foil, make sure you have a good look at the cork for signs of leakage, and give the cork and mouth of the bottle a good wipe so you can have some sense as to the condition of the cork.  If a cork is at all wet on the exterior of the bottle or especially old, I usually use an Ah-so opener.  It relies on two prongs on opposite sides of the cork instead of a screw that goes through the centre, and can be extremely useful for fragile corks.  Finally, I almost always decant red wines.  For younger wines, the exposure to air can help them to open up.  With older wines it’s more a matter of racking off the clear wine from any sediment that has accrued in the bottle.

With this bottle I managed to get the cork out in one piece, but it was very soft and wet throughout.  I decanted the wine and ended up with roughly 1cm of wine left in the bottle, but the wine in the decanter was fairly clear.  I poured myself a glass, and the cork, though wet, seemed to have done its job.

In the glass this wine was clear and bright with a medium garnet colour but an opaque core.  When swirled there were some slow legs.  On the nose it was clean and fully developed with medium minus intensity and notes of dried red currants, sweet spice, leather, potpuorri and cocoa powder.  On the palate it was dry, with medium minus intensity, medium minus alcohol, medium minus very fine tannins, medium acidity, and medium length.  There were notes of dried red currants and cranberries, black liquorice, tobacco leaf and milk chocolate.

This wine was a real treat.  I’m not sure it’s entirely appropriate to put an evaluation of quality on a wine that’s 40 years old, but I will give it a very good to outstanding.  It very clearly was a fantastic wine and I’m drinking it past its prime.  That said, while the intensity and tannins have faded, the acidity still has a bit of zip, and while the fruit has all progressed to being dried, it’s certainly still there.  The developed characters give it plenty of complexity, and there is no doubt as to its typicity as a Cabernet Sauvignon.

It’s unusual to come across a bottle of Australian wine from the 1970s, and rarer still for it to be neither fortified nor sweet.  Even though I sourced this from a reliable auctioneer, I didn’t fancy my chances of finding anything drinkable inside, but I’m so pleased I did.  It’s reminded me that while there were not only quality dry table wines being produced in Australia in the 1970s, there were some quite capable of ageing gracefully for decades.

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.

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005

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Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005

As someone who both studies and enjoys wines, it’s sometimes annoying to be asked if I have a favourite.  The notion that I would pick a single wine and hold it up over all others is a bit silly, as there are so many great wines out there and picking the right one is so often down to the situation.  A perfect wine for a warm summer’s day on the veranda would not be right for a cold night by the fire.  However, if pressed, I will sometimes confess that I actually do have a favourite, and today I will tell you about it with this Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005.

When I arrived in Australia, I was just starting to appreciate wine and Penfolds is one of the biggest names in the business.  While they produce a huge range of wines, many at very low price points, they’re best known for their flagship Grange, widely regarded as the most famous Australian wine.  Over my first few years here, I attended a number of Penfolds tastings as well as some elegant dinners at their Magill Estate restaurant, and eventually decided that if I was going to have a favourite wine, I could do much worse than RWT.  I had tasted the wine on a number of occasions and enjoyed it greatly, so at some point I thought that if I could have just one wine, that would be it.

Given my wine journey over the last few years, it’s turned into something of an contrary choice.  I work vintage with a tiny producer, making Pinot Noir in a cool climate.  I love obscure grapes and lesser known regions.  Penfolds RWT on the other hand, is a wine from a huge producer, made from an extremely popular grape in a prominent, warm region.  However, I’m still happy to call it my favourite because I always enjoy drinking it.

Barossa and Shiraz are well known to this blog, so I’ll move directly to talking about Penfolds.  It was founded in 1844 by an English doctor, Christopher Rawson Penfold, and the wines first produced at Magill were prescribed as tonic.  The business grew quickly, producing both table and fortified wines, and over the century that followed grew to include vineyards throughout South Australia and New South Wales.  The company pioneered fine wine in Australia through the efforts of Max Schubert, with Grange starting as an experiment in 1951, and continued by developing a distinctive house style of red wines through the 1960s.

In 1986 John Duval became the chief winemaker.  Loyal readers will recognize that name not just from his white Rhône blend Plexus but also the Syrah he makes with Viña Ventisquero.  In 1995 he embarked on a project to produce a high quality Shiraz that would be distinct from both Grange and another Penfolds premium wine, St. Henri.  Both of those are multiregional, in that they are made of grapes that can be sourced from across Australia, and each will often have a small component of Cabernet Sauvignon depending on the vintage.  For RWT (from red winemaking trials) Duval stuck exclusively with Barossa Shiraz, and while Grange is distinctively in new American hogsheads and St. Henri sees only old French oak vats, RWT is aged in half new French hogsheads.

Peter Gago took over as chief winemaker in 2002, continuing to this day, and I can’t resist telling a short story.  My wife had met him in London at an international tasting and she was impressed that he turned up in advance and personally opened and tested every bottle of his wine  - far from the norm.  Fast forward to 2007 and my wife and I had reservations for a very small, local wine dinner in Adelaide that he was to be presenting.  It was also the night of a lunar eclipse, and we walked by the restaurant 30 minutes before the dinner, on our way to an open area from which to watch the moon disappear.  As we passed, there he was opening and tasting each of the wines, and it was my turn to be impressed.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a deep brick red colour and very slow, thick legs lining the glass when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of red cherries, boysenberries, cinnamon, and a little bit of leather. If you’ve ever smelled Red Vines, you’ll get that, too.  On the palate it’s clean, with high intensity, medium plus acidity, medium plus mouth coating fine tannins, medium plus body, medium plus alcohol, and long length.  It’s concentrated but not jammy.  There are notes of red cherries, blackberries, black pepper, pomegranate, blood/red meat/iron, liquorice, and a black pudding finish.

This is an outstanding wine.  It’s deeply concentrated, very rich and long lasting.  A joy, but then again, it is my favourite, so I would say that.  More objectively, it is well balanced, particularly for such a big wine.  The range of flavours, both fruit and developed, is impressive and I expect it will gain further complexity with another ten years in cellar.  The typicity is very strong, as is the expression of both the Barossa and Penfolds’ house style. I’m glad I have another half dozen in the cellar, and look forward to tasting through all the vintages at some point.