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.

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.

Olssens Bass Hill Vineyard Carmenère 2006

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Olssens Bass Hill Vineyard Carmenère 2006

Olssens Bass Hill Vineyard Carmenère 2006

I had a run through my backlog of bottles, that is things I’ve drunk but haven’t written up, and I have quite a few wines from Australia, France and Canada to sort.  So in an effort to clear the queue, this week will be exclusively wines of Australia, and next week I’ll tackle the French.  I’ll start with this Olssens Bass Hill Vineyard Carmenère 2006.

I wrote a bit about Carmenère with the Viña Casa Silva Microterroir back in July, but now that I have my copy of Wine Grapes I think it’s worthwhile to dig out a new fact for each variety even if I’ve covered the grape before.  The book makes excellent use of pedigree charts for grapes, and the Cabernet Sauvignon chart is a case in point.  For Carmenère it shows that one parent is Cabernet Franc, and the other is Gros Cabernet, a grape which is no longer cultivated.  What makes that interesting is that Cabernet Franc is a grandparent of Gros Cabernet, meaning that Carmenère has Cabernet Franc as a parent and as a great-grandparent.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also have Cabernet Franc as a parent, which goes some way to explaining how the varieties can be confused with one another.

This is a wine of the Clare Valley, which I described when I wrote up the a Pikes Riesling back in February.  While I certainly like the wines of Clare, it’s that bit further out from Adelaide such that I don’t get to visit very often and as a result I expect I’m missing out on some interesting wines.  There are plantings of Barbera and Zibibbo which would advance my quest for a century of varietal wines, to say nothing of the Assyrtiko vines that Jim Barry put in a couple of years ago.

Olssens of Watervale has some interesting plantings, though some of them are more to do with trying something old than trying something new.  Founded by Kevin and Helen Olssen in 1986, it is one of very few wineries to produce a red Bordeaux style blend out of the six originally permitted grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère.  Other wines produced include Riesling, Semillon, and Shiraz, as well as red blends.  This bottling of the 2006 vintage is quite possibly the first commercial release of a varietal Australian Carmenère, though there are now at least a half dozen producers with plantings.  Unfortunately it’s not clear if there will be another Carmenère from Olssens or indeed any other wines.  At present, the Watervale property is listed for sale, and while I’m tempted, I don’t think I’m quite ready to make the move.

In the glass, this wine is dark ruby, with the most narrow of rims and quick dark legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of blueberries, chocolate, cherries, and a slight hint of raisins.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium grippy tannins, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and notes very similar to the noses – blueberries, chocolate, and cherries, with some coffee and a touch of prunes.  It has a mocha finish and a medium plus length.

This is a solid good, in fact almost a very good.  It lets me down slightly in terms of complexity, in that the nose tells you the whole story, and I would have expected the development over six years to have given more than just a bit of chocolate and coffee.  But that said, there’s nothing out of place, and it has good varietal typicity as far as the cherries and chocolate go.  I attribute the blueberries to the cooler climate of Clare.

Kabminye Eden Valley Kerner 2010

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Kabminye Eden Valley Kerner 2010

Kabminye Eden Valley Kerner 2010

I’m trying to taste 100 varietal wines from different grape varieties, and it’s been slow going of late.  (This brings me to 71.)  I’m trying to keep the homepage somewhat diverse and not overloaded with too many wines from a single country, and so new varietals have had to wait their turn.  However, today it’s time for another Australian wine, another new varietal at that, the Kabminye Eden Valley Kerner 2010.

Kerner is a grape which is often grouped with other varieties of similar origin, collectively called German crossings.  A cross is a grape that is the result of breeding two other varieties, usually different types of vitis vinifera.  (Not to be confused with hybrids which are generally the result of crossing a variety of vitis vinifera with some other vitis species.)  While strictly speaking, every variety of vitis vinifera is a cross, the term generally applies to varieties where the parentage is known, and typically where the crossing was by design.

The term German crossings refers to a group of varieties that have emerged from vine breeding programs at German viticultural research centres, with the two most famous being Geisenheim and Geilweilerhof in the Rheingau and Pfalz regions respectively.  Geisenheim was founded in 1872 and within a decade had produced Müller-Thurgau which at one point was the most widely planted grape in Germany.  Geilweilerhof, now part of the Julius Kühn-Institut, was founded in 1926 and produced the Bacchus crossing in 1933, using Müller-Thurgau as one of the parents.  While the rate of development of new crosses peaked in the first half of the 20th century, their research continues to this day.

Kerner isn’t from either of those centres, rather another research centre in Lauffen, roughly 80km east of Geilweilerhof in what is now the state of Baden-Württemberg.  First developed by August Herold in 1929, it is a cross of the red grape Trollinger and Riesling.  Named after a poet and composer with an affinity for wine, it wasn’t commercially released as a variety until 1969.  It quickly made inroads to become the third most planted white grape in 2003, though it has fallen in the league tables since then.

Its success as a variety is down to a number of factors.  It is popular in Germany as a wine because it has a similar flavour profile to Riesling as well as high acidity and the ability to age.  As important though, it is successful as a vine because it buds late, making it resistant to frost.  It also ripens more reliably than Riesling, meaning it can be planted in a wider variety of vineyards as opposed to just those with ideal aspects for collecting sunshine.  In addition it has higher yields than Riesling, though with high vigour it requires more pruning in the growing season.

Kabminye Wines is a small producer in the hamlet of Krondorf, right next door to Charles Melton and a few doors down from Rockford.  The name means Morning Star in an Aboriginal language, and was apparently the name given to the hamlet from 1917 due to anti-German sentiment related to the Great War, though reverted in 1975.  The label was founded in 2001 by Rick and Ingrid Glastonbury and produces only very small quantities of a number of wines.  In whites they have Semillon, White Frontignac (Muscat) , and this Kerner, though they also make a fortified from their Muscat and a Mistell from Kerner.  In reds they have two versions of the obligatory Shiraz (they are in Barossa), but also some interesting blends including Grenache and Carignan, Mataro, Carignan, Cinsault and Black Frontignac, as well as Durif, Carignan and Shiraz.

While Kabminye is based in the Barossa, this is a wine of the neighbouring Eden Valley.  Higher and cooler than Barossa, it’s also home to many Shiraz plantings but is better known for its white grapes, particularly Chardonnay and Riesling.  For a more complete write up, I described the region when I covered the Yalumba Virgilius Viognier.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with pale lemon green colour and quick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of pear, lemon, and petrol.  On the palate it’s dry, with high acidity, medium body, medium minus alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of petrol, quince, lime, green apple, pear, and a hint of grapefruit.

This is a good wine.  It’s very tart, but the tartness seems to come from a number of different sources, all fruit, but a great array of different fruits.  So there’s tart green apple, tart lime, and tart grapefruit, all very distinct.  It’s not far off Riesling but I’m not sure it has the same level of complexity I would want from a good Riesling.  That said, it is certainly a pleasant drink and a nice introduction to a new variety.

Old Mill Estate Touriga Nacional 2007

Old Mill Estate Touriga Nacional 2007

Old Mill Estate Touriga Nacional 2007

I’m inching my way toward a century of varietal wines, and this puts me at 70/100.  I’ve actually hit 90 different grapes in total, but there are some grapes, Pinot Meunier for instance, which are only rarely found outside of a blend.  (Great Western apparently does a good one.) Today’s wine is another example of a variety that’s very easy to find in a blend, but much less common on its own, the Old Mill Estate Touriga Nacional 2007.

Like most people, I first encountered Touriga Nacional when learning about fortified wines.  It’s a black grape, thought to be native to the Dão region of Portugal, and widely considered the best of the five main grapes allowed in Port.  While it is typically the first grape mentioned with regard to Port production, what’s slightly less well known is that within the Douro Valley it represents a tiny fraction of plantings, possibly as low as 2%.  Many vineyards are field blends with different varieties intermingled, so it’s often difficult to know exactly.

It is highly regarded for the rich colour and intense concentration it brings to blends as well as structure through its high levels of tannins.  However, despite being a vigorous vine, it is traditionally prone to low yields due to poor fruit set, which may be why it is not the most popular variety in the vineyard.  Clonal selection improvements had mitigated the low yields to some extent, and the grape has been making inroads into other wine regions within Portugal as well as Australia.  While best known as a component of fortified wine, there is a growing trend for it to be made into table wine.

This is the second post in this blog concerning a wine from Langhorne Creek, the first having been the Rusticana Zinfandel back in April, which has some detail on the region.

Old Mill Estate, as shown by the sheaf on the label, actually does have its origins in grain production.  The property was initially a mill, making chaff out of lucerne.  (That’s alfalfa to Americans – I had to look it up.)  In 1992 the second highest recorded flood in the area destroyed the entire crop, prompting the owners, Peter and Vicki Widdop, to diversify by planting vines the following year.  They initially started just as grape growers, but produced their own vintage in 2004.  In 2006 they brought in John Glaetzer, something of an Australian legend, as a consultant winemaker.

I’m not sure if they still grow lucerne, but their grape plantings consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Touriga Nacional.  Their wines include still, red varietals of each and a couple of blends, as well as a rosé and a sparkling wine both made from Touriga Nacional.

This wine is clear and bright in the glass, with a deep purple colour and quick stained legs.  On the nose it’s clean, intense, and developing, with notes of raisins, plums, and sweet spice.  It’s a very rich nose with ripe fruit.  On the palate it’s dry, though heavily fruit sweet, with a medium plus body, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol, medium minus fine tannins, medium acidity, and medium plus length. There are notes of plum, sweet spice, black cherries, blackberries, and raisins.

This is a good wine – intensely fragrant, with great concentration and fruit flavours, though the acidity struggles to maintain balance.  It’s very full and rich, almost too much so.  I was told a story by a colleague about how he was so impressed when he first tasted Touriga Nacional as a table wine that he asked the winemaker why it wasn’t more popular.  The reply was along the lines of “try to drink a bottle”.  I feel similarly with this wine – it does have a fantastic impact but it’s somewhat overwhelming after a glass or two.  Still, I’d rather be overwhelmed than underwhelmed.

AP Birks Wendouree Cellars Shiraz Malbec 2006

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AP Birks Wendouree Cellars Shiraz Malbec 2006

AP Birks Wendouree Cellars Shiraz Malbec 2006

As I’ve returned to Australia, I really need to get back in the swing of things, and today that means a local hero.  This wine is more than a little bit special, and not just because it’s an interesting blend.  If you don’t live in Australia, it could be one of the best producers you’ve never heard of.  I give you the AP Birks Wendouree Cellars Shiraz Malbec 2006.

When I arrived in Australia I quickly became acquainted with the names and labels of the top producers, and managed to visit the cellar doors of some of them, particularly in South Australia.  I came across Wendouree as a name well represented on the Langton’s Classification and on auction sites, but as they have no website or cellar door I couldn’t find out a great deal.

As it turns out, they were to be my first encounter with a mailing list winery, which is just what you would think – a producer who sells wine (almost?) exclusively to a set list of customers through the post.  It’s quite an enviable situation, where customers are essentially beating a path to your door, and you might think that would make the wines impossible to source.

For better or worse, that’s not so much the case.  While some customers on the list buy their allotted bottles and cellar them away, the fact that demand outstrips supply tempts others to sell theirs, often through auction sites.  One way or another they turn up in some of the nicer bottle shops and every now and again on a wine list.  The “better” part of that is that people who aren’t on the list are able to enjoy the wines, but “worse” is that the prices the wines can command on the secondary market can be multiples of the prices charged by Wendouree.  So almost any time such a bottle finds its way into the hands of someone not on the mailing list, there’s someone other than the producer pocketing a hefty markup.  While I’ve been fortunate enough to buy some wines direct, I’ve also purchased some second hand.  The money I paid was not unreasonable for the wine in question, but it was disappointing knowing so little of it went to the producer.

The term “cult” is often associated with fans of Wendouree, by the likes of Oz Clark, Jamie Goode, and even Langton’s.  Being a fan, I have an obvious bias, but I don’t think it’s apt for two reasons.  First, I associate cults with a disconnection from logic, where people who are part of them believe themselves to have some insight that those outside do not.  While not everyone is a fan of Wendouree for whatever reason, I know of few detractors when it comes to the wines themselves.  Second, people who join cults typically have to give up all their money, but the wines of Wendouree are not overly expensive for their quality, particularly if you are on the mailing list.

If you want the classic cult wine, you need look no further than the archetype, Screaming Eagle, which has no end of detractors (based on the hype, obviously not on the wine as so few have ever tried it) and is completely unaffordable on top of being largely unavailable.  The disconnect from reality is evident in that they think of themselves as “a grand cru – a Napa first growth.”  A tragic case drinking too much of their own Kool-Aid.  Jancis Robinson recently tweeted, “Must say I find French wine names outside France really silly.”  I think that goes double for French wine classifications.

So what makes Wendouree so special?  The winery is a hundred years old, and some of the grapes are off vines planted as far back as 1892.  Even with their younger vines, yields are kept very low, and the winery produces only about 1800 cases per year.  Everything is harvested by hand, often across multiple passes.  The winery itself makes use of open top fermenters, carefully controlled malolactic fermentation in tank, and a mix of new and used French oak.  Wines are made for ageing – a few years back they released a 1991 varietal Malbec in magnums some 18 years after vintage (and yes, I managed to bag one).  As I write this, there is a 1975 Wendouree Cabernet Malbec Shiraz up for auction with Langtons which I would love to try.

If there’s one aspect, beyond the mailing list, that might make people want to put Wendouree in the category of a cult wine, it’s the somewhat shy nature of the people behind it.  Tony and Lita Brady have owned the property since 1974, but their focus has been on the vines and wines.  As far as I can tell, they do no promotion, they enter their wines in no shows, and they do not comment publicly about their wines.  Only rarely do wine writers grace their office, and then the focus seems as much on technique for producing the best cup of coffee as bottle of wine.  There are no tasting notes, and in the case of this bottle, no back label.  (In fact this bottle doesn’t even have an ABV printed – is that legal?  I wasn’t looking closely enough – the ABV is there in very, very fine print.)  Their wines speak for themselves, and in a world that knows no end of self-promotion, I find that refreshing.  More a cloister than a cult.

I hope I can be forgiven for not having much more to say about the Clare Valley, having been there as recently as July with the ArtWine Graciano.  As to these grapes, they are well known to this blog both as varietals and as components in blends, but this is the first time we’ve seen them together.  In France, no region springs to mind as being known for growing both, though as some Syrah used to make its way into Bordeaux blends from time to time (pre-AC regulations), they’ve certainly been found in the same bottle before.  I’m somewhat surprised I haven’t yet come across Syrah Malbec blends in South America because there are a few producers blending them there as well.

As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, dark ruby colour, just starting to edge toward brick red, with quick coloured legs.  On the nose I get sweet spice, roses, perfume, blackberries, and caramelized meat that’s just about to be charred.  It’s developing and intense.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus alcohol, medium plus intensity, medium plus fine tannins, and a long finish.  There are notes of red meat on the palate, black pepper, liquorice, blackberries, and a little charcoal.

This wine is exceptional.  It’s rich, intense, and complex.  I’m almost certainly enjoying it too young, and at the expense of further development over the next few years.

As I mentioned, there’s no link to the producer’s website because there isn’t one, and there is no cellar door so don’t go knocking on doors near the pin in the map on Wendouree Road without an invitation.

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.