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.

Rockford Rod & Spur Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2006

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Rockford Rod & Spur Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2006

Rockford Rod & Spur Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2006

When I arrived in Australia over five years ago, I knew little about wine.  South Australia in particular is a good place to learn, though there are some pitfalls to avoid when it comes to studying wine in an area in which it’s made.  For instance, local knowledge of wines of the area can be both broad and deep, but insufficient if you want to explore wines of other areas.  So as I mentioned last week, many Australians claim sparkling red wine as a homegrown innovation, overlooking Lambrusco.  Some have made similar assertions which are worth exploring as to the blend of grapes in today’s wine, the Rockford Rod & Spur Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2006.

Blending different grape varieties is practised throughout most places in which wine is made.  The best known area for blending could be said to be Bordeaux, where their red, white and sweet wines are typically blends of at least two grapes each.  Blending is likewise common in much (but not all) of the Rhône Valley, with Châteauneuf-du-Pape being a stand out with over a dozen permitted grapes.  Even in Burgundy, best known for varietal wines, there are less common blends such as the Passe-Tout-Grains.

There are a number of reasons winemakers might choose to make a blend, but the single biggest is to balance out the different characteristics of individual varieties, and commercial concerns can come into play as well.  Traditionally though, blending options were limited to grapes that were grown in reasonably close proximity, for reasons of climate or culture.  I believe that is why I have yet to see an Old World blend of Riesling and Palomino.  In many places, these traditional grapes and blends have become enshrined in regulations, such that if you were to put together such a blend, it would be outside of all but the lowest official designation of wine quality.

However, if you move to the New World, it’s an entirely different story.  While there are some grapes that have a resonance with certain areas, there are few if any restrictions as to what people can plant and blend.  This allows perhaps a greater degree of experimentation and innovation, but it also means that if a customer sees a bottle of red wine on a shelf that says Barossa on the label, they cannot make any assumptions as to the grapes that went into it.

So what does any of that have to do with this wine?  Cabernet Sauvignon of Bordeaux and Syrah (or Shiraz) of the Rhône are not historically grown near each other and as such are not found together in traditional blends.  Some would say that in France since the grapes take on the same role of providing tannins, structure and the ability to mature over decades, to combine them would be redundant.  Australia, however, embraced both varieties, often planting them in neighbouring areas and vineyards, and so was born what is claimed to be an innovative blend.  It’s even found its way back to France, where some vin de pays is made in the south in that style, notably by Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) with their Val De L’Ours Vin de Pays d’Oc.

However, is it really an original Australian blend?  Nearly, but not quite.  In the days before strict appellation regulations, winemakers in France had a bit more flexibility as to how they handled vintage variation.  Within Bordeaux, when the Cabernet components of their blends were not quite filling their role, it was not uncommon for Syrah wines to be imported and added to the cuvée.  This was apparently not unusual up through roughly a hundred years ago, though it has now been largely forgotten.  Largely, but not entirely, as evidenced by an experimental Château Palmer blend in 2004 that utilized Syrah from the Rhône blended with fruit from their Margaux estate, as well as by the continuing efforts of Alexandre Sirech who has replaced Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah in a Merlot blend.

All that said, I think it actually is fair to describe Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Shiraz as Australian for three main reasons.  The grapes are grown in the same region, they’re blended together because when grown in Australia they have characteristics that can be complimentary and not redundant, and the blend consists of just those two varieties as opposed to potentially including the other Bordeaux reds.  Australia must also be given credit for promoting the two grapes together as a blend, as opposed relying on it as a contingency.

Having spent so many words talking about this blend, it’s a good thing that Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and the Barossa Valley are already well known to this blog and we can move on to Rockford, which certainly deserves some attention.

I think Rockford is best described as an institution in South Australia.  In 1971 Robert O’Callaghan purchased a set of old stone buildings dating back to the 1850s which would become the heart of Rockford.  A winery was built on the location in much the same style, with a rustic feel to the entire property.  His family background was in grape growing, and he trained as a winemaker with Seppelt in Rutherglen before setting out on his own.  While many Barossa producers have a great deal of history and tradition in the region, Rockford is somewhat unique in that also espouses traditional tools of the trade, including the basket press which gives its name to their flagship Shiraz which is among the most sought-after in Australia according to Langton’s Classification.  It’s almost The Woodwright’s Shop approach to winemaking.

While certainly best known for their Basket Press, the wine of theirs that I most commonly encounter is the Alicante Bouchet, a rosé that’s found on a vast number of wine lists in South Australia, despite being made from a grape that is not highly regarded anywhere else in the world.  That may be a reflection of the nature of the company in general, in that it is so greatly appreciated within Australia, South Australia especially, that its limited production is not widely exported and unlike many of the names at the top of the Langton’s Classification, it is not so well known abroad.

Rockford also produces varietal wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon, and Frontignac, as well as a Grenache / Mataro  / Shiraz blend and a fortified wine.  This wine, a 63% Cabernet Sauvignon and 37% Shiraz blend is somewhere in the middle of the Rockford range, and is named for the pruning method used by their growers.

In the glass, it is clear and bright, with a dark, brick red colour (I know, garnet is the preferred term), and slow thick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of sweet spice, dried red fruit (currants, raspberries, cherries), black pepper, and a little liquorice.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium acidity, medium fine tannins, medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, and medium body.  It has notes of liquorice, green peppercorn, red currant, raspberries, and some pencil lead.  It has a medium length with a sour, black cherry finish.

I’ll give this a good rating.  There is a fruit sweetness I associate with Shiraz and Grenache, but there’s also the astringency that I often get from Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc.  There’s not a huge amount of development for a seven year old wine, and still a generous amount of fruit, so this wine will almost certainly improve with additional time in the cellar.

Tscharke Wines Girl Talk Savagnin 2011

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Tscharke Wines Girl Talk Savagnin 2011

Tscharke Wines Girl Talk Savagnin 2011

Yesterday’s wine was a lovely Castro Martin Albariño and up until recently today’s wine could have been held up as a New World counterpoint.  But just as the availability of DNA testing has upset many families with revelations of misattributed parentage, so too has it brought clarity, at times unwelcome, to the identity of grape varieties.  And with that somewhat dubious introduction, I bring you Tscharke Wines Girl Talk Savagnin 2011.

When I wrote about Albariño yesterday, I failed to mention how well regarded it is.  It’s considered the best white variety of Spain, and had a surge in popularity over the last two decades.  In that time, it has attracted the attention of not just consumers but also of vignerons and winemakers in the New World anxious to see how the variety would perform in their terroirs.  As such, plantings found their way to California, Oregon, New Zealand and Australia.

Or so it was thought.  Jean-Michel Boursiquot of the University of Montpellier, who we first encountered when I wrote about a Chilean Carmenère, visited Australia and suggested that what was being called Albariño was in fact Savagnin Blanc.  The issue was taken up by government researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which was originally responsible for bringing the variety from Spain.  Known Albariño samples were imported, comparisons were made, and in 2009 Boursiquot was pronounced correct.  From that vintage onwards, any wines produced from what had been thought to be Albariño needed to be labeled Savagnin (Blanc) or Traminer.  Needless to say, there was a huge uproar.

First, Savagnin Blanc / Traminer.  Savagnin Blanc is a grape closely associated with Jura, France, where it is most commonly made into vin jaune, an oxidative style wine that has similarities with the fortified wines of Jerez.  Traminer is a relative of Gewürztraminer, though without the aromatic qualities, and of diminishing popularity in cooler, continental areas of Europe.  Traminer also has a history in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, where it has been used to make sweet wines which have likewise waned in popularity.  In 2000 the French ampleographer Pierre Galet established that Savagnin Blanc and Traminer were in fact the same grape.

So back to 2009, and suddenly Australian producers are told that wines which had been successful as “Albariño” are now required to be labelled as either an unfamiliar French grape or as an unpopular Germanic grape.  Looking at press coverage and remarks from producers at the time, the entire Kübler-Ross model played out very rapidly.  Some producers did not believe the CSIRO’s findings, or if they did they wanted to find some accommodation in being able to continue to use the name Albariño.  There was widespread anger at the CSIRO for selling the vines as Albariño in the first place, and I’m sure no shortage of depression at the bad fortune.  However, as the label on this bottle attests, there was acceptance.

Also, it should be noted that subsequently the origin of the confusion was traced back to Spain, whence the vines were supplied, not a mix-up on the part of the CSIRO which was responsible for importing the material and then distributing it to nurseries and growers.

It was something of a tragedy for two reasons.  First off, the people who were hurt, the producers, were not the ones at fault.  They were sold vines as Albariño, and in particular in the case of Tscharke they found the vines had the ampelographic characteristics they expected – conical clusters, multiple pips, the right number of bunches per shoot and the right berry size and colour.  While sales of “Albariño” were on the rise, selling Savagnin or Traminer was a completely different prospect.  Even in the unlikely event that consumers would seamlessly switch varieties, there were still associated costs of changing labels and all the accompanying materials.

It also brought Australian labelling into question with regard to varieties.  Australia has a very chequered history with the use of dubious place and grape names on labels, but had made great strides in recent years to conform to international standards.  Unlike some historic misrepresentations, this was not an attempt to ride on the coattails of a popular region or variety, but rather an honest mistake in trying to produce wines of the same grape locally.  Nonetheless, the damage was done.

However, three years on I optimistically like to think that the worst is behind “Albariño” producers.  Varietal Savagnins grace the shelves of bottle shops, and while I don’t have sales figures, I hope that consumers still enjoy the wine even if the name on the label has changed.  While misidentifications of grape varieties can cause confusion and grief, they are a fact of life.  Improvements in genetics based ampelography will continue, and I personally am expecting some surprises when Wine Grapes is published in October.

Tscharke Wines is based in Barossa Valley, and is the product of Damien Tscharke, who also runs Glaymond Wines.  While Glaymond is best known for classic grapes of Barossa, the Tscharke label was split off in 2004 to showcase alternative and emerging varieties, such as Montepulciano, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Zinfandel, Graciano, and now Savagnin.  They even produce a Frizzante Savagnin under the name Eva.  They were the first, and in 2009 the largest, Australian producer of “Albariño” and were thus at the centre of the controversy at the time, and had doubled their production between 2008 and 2009 to some 4,000 cases.

As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with pale lemon green colour and a viscosity on the inside of the glass when swirled that can’t make up it’s mind if it’s a film or legs.  On the nose it’s clean with medium minus intensity, and notes of pear, custard, and a little bit of green vegetable.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus intensity, medium body, medium alcohol, and medium minus length.  There is apple zing, with both green apple acidity and a bit of red apple sweetness, as well as some lemon-lime and bitters, and a hint of waxiness on the finish.

This is a good wine.  The palate is a bit low on complexity, and the finish is slightly short, but it’s an interesting wine for those of us who like alternative varieties.  The fruitiness is attractive, and it certainly hits the numbers in terms of acidity and intensity on the palate.  I’m not an expert, but Albariño was not the first thing that jumped to mind when I sniffed it – I didn’t get any blossom which is my usual tell (though often wrong) for that variety.  Then again, if someone had told me that’s what it was, I don’t think I would have disputed it either.  I hope that Tscharke has put the mix-up behind it, and continues to pioneer alternative varieties in Australia.

Charles Melton Grains of Paradise Shiraz 2006

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Charles Melton Grains of Paradise Shiraz 2006

Charles Melton Grains of Paradise Shiraz 2006

I do try to mix things up in terms of what I drink, both as far as grapes and regions.  However, in doing so I sometimes leave gaping holes in coverage.  So while I’ve profiled an Aglianico and a Torrontés from Argentina, I haven’t written about a Mendoza Malbec.  Similarly, while I’ve written about five wines from the Barossa Valley, I haven’t covered a straight Shiraz.  Rather than let that oversight stand, I give you this Charles Melton Grains of Paradise Shiraz 2006.

So why have I shied away from Barossa Shiraz?  No good reason at all.  In fact, it was my favourite region when I arrived in Australia five years ago, and when asked my favourite wine these days I would reply RWT, a great Barossa Shiraz from Penfolds, created by John Duval (who now makes great wine on his own and as a consultant).  However, as I’ve learned more about wine it’s been increasingly difficult to hold onto a single favourite, and I’m much more inclined to think in terms of the situation, what I’m eating and the people with whom I’ll be sharing the bottle.  Also, when given a choice between a favourite and something I haven’t tried before, I will always go with the novel choice.  So as a result, I don’t drink as much Barossa Shiraz as I did five years ago.  And no, it’s not (just) because I’ve become an Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir snob.

Since I’ve written about both the Barossa Valley and Shiraz before, it’s worth digging deeper specifically into Barossa Shiraz.  While Barossa was initially planted in the mid 19th century with Riesling by the largely Germanic settlers, the warm climate was not particularly good for that grape.  More success was eventually found with Shiraz (also known locally at one time as Hermitage) and Grenache, both of which were used in fortified wine production.  Demand for fortified wines started to decline in the 1950s and Shiraz likewise fell out of fashion as table wine production of other varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, shifted to Coonawarra.  Over the decades that followed, some vines were pulled, and the wines made from those that remained were not typically bottled with any geographical or varietal indicators.

Fortunately, not all of those vines were pulled.  Fashion turned Barossa’s way again in the late 20th century, with a resurgence in interest in Rhône varieties and the emergence of fine wine production in Australia.  Barossa, home to some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, was uniquely positioned to take advantage of this shift.  Small, boutique wineries such as Charles Melton were among the first to make good use of old bush vines, typically dry grown and very low yielding.  Fast forward to the present and Barossa Shiraz is the most widely recognized wine of Australia, produced in small batches by artisan winemakers and in industrial quantities by multinationals, at all levels of quality.

Charles Melton is at the boutique / high quality ends of the scales.  The eponymous founder, originally named Graeme but dubbed Charlie by Peter Lehmann, a cornerstone of the Barossa wine industry, established the label in 1984 after ten years of working for Lehmann and exploring the wines of the Rhône on trips to France.  Contrary to trends at the time, he produced his first wines from old vines when while a vine pull scheme was in progress and farmers were replacing their hundred year old Shiraz and Grenache plantings with more fashionable varieties.  He managed to partner with a number of farmed who also bucked the trend, and now has access to fruit from a handful of neighbouring vineyards as well as his own 50 acres.

In addition to this Shiraz, he has the Voices of Angels, and two others named after their respective vineyards, the Kirche and the Father-in-Law.  He has two Grenache based wines, the Richelieu and the Nine Popes, as well as a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, a rosé named for his wife Virginia, and a shockingly deep pink sparkler called Brut Peche.  He also makes a dessert wine in the style of Vin Santo called Sotto Di Ferro.

While some of Charles Melton’s wines exhibit a strongly Rhône influenced style, this Grains of Paradise is meant to be a classic Barossa Shiraz, with significant colour and flavour extraction.  After fermentation it sees two years in barrel, 50% new, with the oak being roughly 60% French and 40% American.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a dark purple colour (even at six years old!), and quick coloured legs.  On the nose it’s clean with medium plus intensity, a developing character and scents of plums, perfume, sweet spice, raspberries, and potpourri.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, high intensity, medium plus body, medium fine tannins, and medium plus alcohol.  There are notes of sweet spice, red meat, violets, and a summer pudding of mixed berries.  It has a long length with a blueberry and star anise finish.

This is a very good to exceptional wine.  This bottle has intensity enough for a case of wine, bursting with fruit even after six years.  This has really only just started to mature – there are a few developed notes but really this is very young and will grow into something special.  I’m so glad I have more in the cellar.

Schild Estate Frontignac 2010

Schild Estate Frontignac 2010

Schild Estate Frontignac 2010

I like to think I learn something with each post I write.  Most often it’s about a producer, because there are so many of them and I start from a pretty low base in terms of knowledge.  Less often it’s the region that enlightens me, because while I don’t know everything, there are far fewer regions than producers.  Grapes though are usually more a matter of collecting what I already know (or what I should know) into a paragraph or two and keeping it simple while covering the basics.  Today I learned something new straight away with the Schild Estate Frontignac 2010.

Frontignac is a familiar grape in Australia, certainly in South Australia, and found commonly in Barossa.  It’s a white grape and I usually associate it with wines that are sweet, fortified, or typically both, and as I generally stick to dry table wine I don’t taste it very often.  However, you see it at cellar doors throughout the Barossa and you can’t help but trying it after you’ve been through the whites and reds.

So when I was enjoying this slightly sweet example with some spicy food, I got to thinking about the grape itself and how little I know about it.  With most grapes, a first question is where does it originate, typically where in Europe?  However, I couldn’t recall coming across it anywhere.  It turns out it’s a grape that’s only known as Frontignac within Australia (much like Syrah is known as Shiraz here) and that in most other parts of the world it’s more commonly known as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.

This will take a bit of unravelling, so hold on.  The name originally comes from France, in the form of a small town called Frontignan in the Languedoc, which produced a once famous wine called Muscat de Frontignan, largely out of the grape Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.  I believe this name changed to Frontignac in South Africa where it is used to describe similarly made sweet wines of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.  I’m guessing the name travelled to Australia by way of the Cape, and it has been in use here ever since.  In the meanwhile, the original Muscat de Frontignan, famously praised and enjoyed by Pliny the Younger, John Locke, Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson, largely fell into obscurity for most of the 20th century.  Fortunately though there has been some resurgence of late.

Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is a grape that is grown across an incredibly large expanse of the Mediterranean as propigated by the Romans.  It can be found in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, as well as in parts of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where it is made into a wide variety of wines, sweet and dry, sparkling and still, fortified and table.  The most distinguished member of the Muscat family, it does have the small seeds and berries its name suggests, but it is not always a white grape.  The colour can range from yellow to pink, brown, red and black, and in fact the same vine can produce different coloured grapes year to year.

I’ve written a number of times about Barossa, most recently with the Barossa Muster M so instead of rehashing that, a bit more about Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains in Australia.    While it is known as Frontignac, there’s another name, Brown Muscat, which I believe refers to exactly the same grape, with Frontignac being the term for vines producing lighter skinned grapes and the latter for darker grapes.  They are used most famously here, along with Muscadelle, in the production of the rich, sweet, fortified wines of Rutherglen.  These wines had been known locally as Liqueur Muscat and Liqueur Tokay, though what was Tokay is now being changed to Topaque.  Produced though a combination of raisined grapes, fermentation halted through the addition of spirit, and wood ageing under heat, these wines are a dessert style all their own.

Schild Estate is a family run winery in the Rowland Flat area of the Barossa Valley.  The Schild family established a mixed farm in the early 1950s, but upon the death of the patriarch a few years later, his son Ed Schild took over, aged 16.  He expanded the family holdings over time, which now comprise over 400 acres, including a patch of 160 year old Shiraz vines.  Wines were made offsite until just recently, with the opening of the Valley of Hope Winery in July 2010 and then the first vintage being produced in 2011.

They produce a range of wines with locally sourced Reisling, Chardonnay, a Moscato style sparkler, this Frontignac, and Adelaide Hills sourced Chardonnay making up their whites and a combination of varietal Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Barossa, as well as a GSM blend, making up their reds.  One of their Shiraz varietals is made from fruit exclusively off the ancient 160 year old vines.

This wine is clear and bright, and a lemon green colour in the glass.  It produces a thin film along the side of the glass when swirled that doesn’t really resolve into legs.  It’s clean on the nose, with notes of lime, tropical fruit, and a hint of blossom.  I would describe it as youthful, and of medium intensity.  On the palate, it’s off dry, with medium body, medium acidity, medium minus alcohol, and medium plus flavour intensity.  It has notes of pineapple, lime, and mango.  It’s very fruit driven, with a slightly sour fruit finish and medium plus length.

This is a good wine, but it’s really a style from another era.  I wasn’t drinking in the 70s and 80s, but this style of off-dry, with tropical fruit takes me back.  One thing it is not is grapey, which is usually the hint that identifies a grape from the Muscat family.  However, it doesn’t have the acidity that would cause you to think it might be Riesling nor the aromatics to think it was Gewürztraminer.  I admit, I did pick up this wine exclusively to tick another box on the road to 100 varietal wines, and I’m glad I did for those purposes, but it’s a stretch for me from what I would normally choose to drink.  Still, you don’t have to be a fan of a particularly style to appreciate a wine of that style when it’s well made as this one certainly is.

Barossa Muster M Barossa Valley Mataro 2007

Barossa Muster M Barossa Valley Mataro 2007

Barossa Muster M Barossa Valley Mataro 2007

In an ideal world, I’d be happy with each of my posts, with the amount of effort that went into each and the reward I feel when each is finished.  In truth though, I have at times written about wines which didn’t excite me, and which didn’t advance my cause of covering a wealth of different grapes, regions, and producers.  However, today I get to write about a new grape and a producer I like, and so I am approaching this post as though the reward is in the writing, not in the having written.  And the wine for today is the Barossa Muster M Barossa Valley Mataro 2007.

Grape names are a funny thing.  While cultivation of varieties through the use of cuttings rather than seeds has quite ancient origins, the ability to distinguish different varieties, either at the vine or grape level, has only recently (19th century) become a science, Ampelography.  It is only more recently still, around 1985 thanks to DNA profiling, that it has become something of an exact science.  Prior to that many grape varieties made their way around the world, often picking up local names wherever they settled.  I can understand that when varieties change countries, so Pinot Noir of France is Pinot Nero in Italy, but when it went to Germany they dropped the Pinot and called it the late grape from Burgundy, Spätburgunder.  In Austria and Switzerland the emphasis is on the fact that it’s a blue grape, so there it is called Blauburgunder.  Where it gets particularly confusing though is where the same grape goes by a different name from region to region, or town to town.  There are more synonyms for Tempranillo in Spain than you could shake a stick at, and Sangiovese is the same in Italy.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, there is an effort to have the grape Prosecco renamed Glera if it is used in wine from outside of the Prosecco regions, which I think is more than a little silly.

This wine is called M because they couldn’t decide if they should go with Mataro, Mouvèdre or Monastrell, though they did go with Mataro on the back label, hence its place in the title of this post.  Mataro is the name for the grape associated with Australia, so I’ll stick with it throughout this post, but Mouvèdre is generally how it is known in France where it is found in wines in the south, including Provence, the Rhône, Languedoc and Roussillon. Monastrell is its most common name within Spain.

As a grape, it is red with small berries and thick skins.  It needs a great deal of sun and heat to ripen, which it does very late. It has traditionally delivered uneven yields, though clonal selection has helped with that.  It delivers high levels of alcohol, tannins and acidity, and is frequently part of a blend with Grenache, both in France and Spain.

Barossa Muster is a producer I know largely through their parent company, Muster Wine & Spirit Co.  They produce the Barossa Muster wines and a line of Italian styled wines,  but more importantly (to me at least) they distribute a range of wines, most of them brought in from overseas.  So the Bogle, Muga, Furst, and Camino Del Inca wines I’ve written about were all distributed by Muster.  So was my very first post, the Goats Do Roam, though it doesn’t seem to be in their catalogue at the moment.

Unfortunately, while I do really like Muster, there isn’t a huge amount of information available about the wine production side of their business.  They produce five wines under the Barossa Muster label, a Shiraz, a Tempranillo, a fortified Pedro Ximenez, and a fortified tawny, as well as this Mataro.  They also have two Allsorts wines, a red and a white, each a blend of few grape varieties available in the Barossa.  It appears they buy in their fruit from northern Barossa vineyards from low yielding sites, but there’s not much detail as to the operation so I’m guessing it’s contract made for them.

This is the third wine from the Barossa I’ve covered, so ideally I should have said all there is to say, but looking over my past posts I haven’t really covered the basics.  It’s a warm, Mediterranean climate, with little rain during the growing season and relatively mild but often wet winters.  Irrigation of vines is common.  The area has some of the oldest vines in the world, often over a century and some older still, as South Australia was not hit with phylloxera.  While everyone in Barossa claims their vines are on some hillside or another, the valley as a whole is very flat, though some of the surrounding hills are under vine.  The soil has low fertility, and ranges from clay loam to a variety of sandy soils.  The acidity of the soil increases with depth, which puts a cap on vigor.

While culturally Barossa was settled largely by German immigrants, the grapes and wine styles owe more to the Rhône.  Shiraz and Grenache, along with Mataro, form the wines for which the region is best known.  While the region has a wide range of varieties under vine, the iconic wine of Australia could be said to be Barossa Shiraz.

That was the grape, producer and region, so all that leaves us is what’s in the glass.  It’s clear and bright, with deep ruby colour, purple rim, and thin, pale, purple legs.  On the nose it’s clean, developing, with medium plus intensity, and notes of plum/prune, blackberry, sweet spice, some oak and a bit of chocolate.  On the palate it’s dry, with high acidity, medium plus alcohol, high mouth coating tannins, medium body, and high flavour intensity.  The palate matches the nose with prune, blackberries, and chocolate, as well as some black pepper, and a hint of vanilla on the finish.  It has a medium length.

This is very aggressive wine, but of good quality.  It’s interesting as a varietal, as I more typically only see Mataro as a contributing player in a blend.  I would have guessed Carignan given the attack.  It’s pretty overwhelming on its own, but it worked really well with a full-on beef and pepper stew.  It absolutely needs food, and I don’t say that often.  It’s not a subtle wine.  I’d be curious to see if age will teach it any manners, but I did enjoy it as a five year old.

Pin in the map is for their P. O. Box in Tanunda, as I don’t have any other address.

John Duval Wines Barossa Valley Plexus 2010

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John Duval Wines Barossa Valley Plexus 2010

John Duval Wines Barossa Valley Plexus 2010

Tonight is a wine of a style I enjoy, though far from where that style originates.  I’ve been drinking a white wine, a blend of three grapes:  Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier.  Those grapes are well known as being from the Rhône Valley in France, but this is a New World wine, the John Duval Wines Barossa Valley Plexus 2010.

I’m a fan of the wines of the Rhône, having been there in June of this year.  I love Syrah and Granache, but also Marsanne and Roussanne.  I didn’t get to bring much home with me, but thanks to some well known producers having excellent international distribution, it’s easy to find their wines around the world.

John Duval is a winemaker that can be said to likewise be internationally famous.  He worked for Penfolds for nearly three decades, was the custodian of Grange, and very dear to my heart, he created RWT which I generally think of as my favourite wine.  Since leaving Penfolds, he’s worked as a consultant winemaker in a number of places, with Chile and Washington State coming to mind, but also producing his own wines in the Barossa Valley in Australia.  I’m a fan of his wines, and I love the fact that he can make a wine like this.

The Barossa sometimes likes to think of itself as the Rhône Down Under, in that they make Shiraz (Syrah) and have been hugely successful with it.  There are some very serious winemakers who see the Rhône as their starting point when it comes to making wine.  Generally though, that only applies to red wine.  They make straight Shiraz, straight Grenache, and even Grenache/Shiraz/Mouvedre blends.  They have some of the oldest bush vines in the world.  However, as far as whites go, they’re a bit thin on the ground.  There are certainly whites planted, but they’re a wide mix of everything, from Chardonnay to Kerner, but not many Rhône whites.  Somehow, John Duval found enough of the right grapes to make a white Rhône blend, apparently because his wife doesn’t like drinking reds.

So this wine is lovely.  The nose is somewhat restrained, in a way that could be Semillon or Chardonnay, with some citrus, some oak, and a little bit of beeswax.  It’s very rich on the palate, with a lovely weight and a complex flavour.  My only regret is that we don’t have a second bottle chilled.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium lemon colour, with slow thick legs.

Nose

Clean, and developing with medium intensity notes of lemon, toast, oak, and honeycomb.

Palate

Dry, with medium-plus flavour intensity, medium acidity, medium alcohol, medium-plus body and flavour of lemon, oak, spice, quince, with long length and a honeycomb finish.

Conclusions

This is a very good quality wine.  It’s big, with strong body and intensity and a long length.  The complexity is a balance between sharp fruit and French oak treatment, but lacking somewhat in minerality or heavy acidity.  It is very full on the palate.

 

Henschke Henry’s Seven Barossa 2008

Henschke Henry's Seven Barossa 2008

Henschke Henry's Seven Barossa 2008

Tonight I’m sampling a wine from a very important Australian producer, and while this isn’t the most famous wine from that producer, it is important and interesting nonetheless.

I have before me a bottle of Henschke Henry’s Seven Barossa 2008.  It’s a blend of Shiraz, Grenache, and Viognier.  As I mentioned when I wrote about the Domain Day wine a few weeks ago, the Barossa Valley is a bit of Australian holy ground, and best known for robust Shiraz.  It is also the home of some of the oldest vines in Australia, many of them Grenache bush vines, meaning vines not trained to wires.

If Barossa is holy ground, Henschke is Australian divinity.  A family run winery since 1868, it has had many generations working its vines and making wine over almost the last decade and a half.  (Note to self, mark the calendar to buy some 150th anniversary wines around 2018.)  The current generation consists of husband and wife Stephen (winemaker) and Prue (vigneron), as well as at least one Dachshund named Cassie.  They make a range of wines, red, white, and sparkling, with their winery based in Eden Valley, a cool subregion of Barossa.  The have vineyards in Eden Valley in Barossa and Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills, which gives them a range of grapes, with an emphasis on cooler climates.

Having hit on second wines yesterday, it’s worth talking a bit about Henschke in terms of icon wines.  So with the great houses of France, particularly Bourdeaux, there is the notion of grand vin which carries the house name, and possibly a second wine with a different but evocative name.  In Australia, this is turned on its head.  Henschke has an icon wine, Hill of Grace, but it represents a small fraction of its production.  It is a rare and beautiful wine which I’ve only tasted once, and while when it springs to mind when people mention Henschke, it is not what most people have tasted when they’ve had a bottle with a Henschke label on it.  Rather, most have had something like the Henry’s Seven in front of me.  And while Henschke has a range of wines, it doesn’t really touch the low end, in that while this might be one of their more affordable wines, it’s neither cheap nor cheaply made.

As I mentioned, this wine is a blend and sourced from the Barossa Valley, in particular Eden Valley.  The blend, Shiraz, Grenache and Viognier (with 2% Mourvèdre according to the tasting notes), conjures forth thoughts of the Rhône.  I’m not sure in which region it would be considered a traditional blend – in the Côte-Rôtie you certainly see Syrah co-fermented with a considerable whack of Viognier, but I tend to think of Grenache as more typical of the Southern Rhône (and Spain of course).  But I’m a student, so for all I know there is an AOC that has been doing SGV for years.  But Australia is not bound by French AOC rules, so while things like Syrah/Shiraz and Cabernet-Sauvignon blends are uncommon in France (except for one region I can’t remember right now) they can be commonplace in Australia.

So this wine – very nice.  Friends brought it when we hosted them for Thanksgiving dinner a few weeks back, and as we had already selected some wines to go with the turkey, we set this one aside.  I wish I had some of the Pomerol from last night to taste side by side, as this couldn’t be more different.  While it’s a similar age (this is roughly six months younger – that crazy hemisphere thing) it’s from a different planet.  I have a bias in favour of New World wines in general, and so when I was asked to describe how to pick an Australian Shiraz, I said that a taster should look up from their notes and clear their mind with a swig in the mouth.  If the first thing that comes to mind is “damn, this is delicious” then it’s an Australian Shiraz.

Seriously though, this is a much more fruit forward style.  Shiraz makes a much fuller wine, and while people speak of Grenache in France as being a lighter wine, in Barossa from old vines it is like a grape shotgun at point blank range.  The Viognier adds aromatics and apparently helps in colour fixing in co-fermentation.  In this case it certainly keeps up in terms of palate weight.  This is a delightful blend, with intensity and concentration, but without heavy handedness.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium-plus ruby with quick, thick pale ruby legs.

Nose

Clean and developing with medium-plus intensity and sweet spice, fresh raspberries, blackberries, and a bit of liquorice.

Palate

Dry (though the fruit is so fresh and sweet, I had to think twice), medium acidity, medium soft tannins, medium-plus body, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus flavour intensity, with strong blackberry, raspberry, liquorice, sweet spice, and a bit of old oak.  Medium-plus length with some plums on the finish.

Conclusions

This is a very good wine – intense across the board, and so balanced with medium-plus being the norm for the scores.  The acidity is not quite up to the rest of the scores, but it does not put the wine out of balance.  The complexity is only in its infancy, in that I expect it to be more rounded with some cellaring.  I think this wine will improve over the next five years at least.

Domain Day Garganega 2009

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Domain Day Garganega 2009

Domain Day Garganega 2009

First, the meta.  I’ve done a small bit of blogging here and there.  I even had a personal webpage back in 1995 that was fully of pithy stuff that I am glad I can’t remember.  But this blog is a bit different in that it gives me some structure as far as studying for the WSET Diploma Unit 3 exam in just over four weeks.  I drink, I talk about it, I write up some tasting notes, and I put everything here.  I’ve really been enjoying it, and I think I like the fact that other people can read this, but it’s not the point.

So some stats, just for fun.  I have no idea if anyone has read any of this, and a quick look at the logs suggests it really just me and some robots.  There are apparently two people on Facebook who like this, which I think is great.  I was worried when it was just one, in that if he didn’t like something I wrote, no one would like me, but now I have a buffer.  Two is also the number of people in the last 24 hours who have contacted me trying to buy drunk.com, which is also great.  I have no interest in selling, but it’s nice to be asked.  I’m keeping a list of everyone who has ever expressed an interest in buying, and should I ever run out of money for that next case of DRC, I’ll drop them all a note.  Finally, I’ve had 13 spam comments, which is probably what those robots visiting have been up to.  This will make 17 posts, so I’m more prolific than the spam bots, which is saying something.

Quick update – just saw that people are tweeting “drunk.com” which explains why a couple of people recently had the bright idea of trying to buy this domain.  I think I’d be prepared to trade it for another domain if someone could hand me drunk.int, but seeing as they’d need an international treaty, I’m not going to hold my breath.

But hey, there’s blogging about blogging, and then there’s blogging about drinking, and I know which is more interesting (to me).  I know I already wrote today about a wine, but that was lunch, and a by the glass entry at that, so here’s an update from dinner.  We opened up a bottle of Domain Day Garganega 2009 from Mt Crawford.  I continue to be a slave to the novel.

Domain Day is in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, a region famous for the iconic Australian grape, Shiraz (known as Syrah in some other parts of the world).  However, their exact location is described as Mt Crawford, which is 450 metres above sea level, and therefore has a very different weather profile from the rest of Barossa which is typically very warm.  They make use of this somewhat cooler sub-region to grow some grape varieties that are unusual or unexpected, to say the least.

Garganega is actually a very prominent grape variety, being the primary component in Soave, a white wine from the Veneto region in northeast Italy.  However, it’s very much of the Veneto, and it’s difficult (if not impossible) to find outside of Italy.  Domain Day has been making wine from their Garganega plantings for six or so years now, and it’s lovely.  I do not have a wide background in tasting Italian wines, so I can’t compare it to Soave, but it shows what I believe to be typicity with a medium body and something akin to Pinot Grigio meets Chardonnay plus some almonds.

What drives Domain Day to grow Garganega grapes in the Barossa Valley?  Probably the same thing behind their Lagrein and Saperavi, which I’m sure to write about in the future.  Perhaps it’s an interest in less mainstream grape varieties, or the hope that they can corner their local market in a less available exotic wine style.  Whatever it is, I’m so glad they’re doing it because they make very interesting wines and supplementing the diversity of locations into the world wine mix.  And if I’m asked an essay question on wines of the Veneto, I’m absolutely going to find a way to tie in a mention of Garganega grapes being grown in Australia.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium-minus lemon with a quick film in the glass when swirled.

Nose

Clean, medium intensity, developing with notes of pear, simple citrus, almond, honey and vanilla.  I want to say I can smell American oak, but almost no one in Australia uses American oak (except for Grange), and whenever I try to pretend to be able to tell the difference, I’m invariably wrong.

Palate

Dry, medium acidity, no tannins, medium alcohol, medium-plus body with a bit of oiliness, and medium-plus flavour intensity.  Notes of pear, melon, almond, and honey.  Slightly candied finish.  Medium-minus length.

Conclusions

This is a good quality wine, and certainly a step up from the wine I had at lunch.  The flavours have an intensity to match the body, with slightly less acidity and alcohol.  There wasn’t a huge amount of complexity, with it largely being fruit driven, but some nuttiness and oak influence is enough.  The length could be better, but it hits the nail on the head for typicity (though my knowledge of Garganega is largely from reading, not tasting).  I look forward to seeing what this tastes like as the vines get a bit older and the winery has a few more years of working with the grape under their belt.  I expect the 2009 can improve over the next few years, though there’s no harm in drinking it now.