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28 February 2010

Winery snapshots: Australia

Featured on this page: Yabby Lake, Mornington Peninsula - Wakefield, Clare Valley - St Hallett: Barossa Valley, Eden Valley - Pirie, Tasmania - Mitchelton, Nagambie Lakes - Knappstein, Clare Valley - Greenstone, Heathcote - Clonakilla, Canberra - Paxton, McLaren Vale - Petaluma: Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills, Clare Valley, Coonawarra - Cascabel, McLaren Vale - Taltarni, Pyrenees - The Lane, Adelaide Hills - Tallarook, Upper Goulburn Valley - Keith Tulloch, Hunter Valley - Peter Lehmann Wines, Barossa Valley - Mount Donnybrook, Western Australia.

Yabby Lake Vineyard - Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Robert and Mem Kirby (of Village Roadshow fame, as in cinema, music and apparently theme parks too) founded the Yabby Lake vineyards in 1998, under the watchful eye of vineyard manager Keith Harris, on land they already owned on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne (and have also planted in Heathcote and the Strathbogie Ranges in central Victoria); and the company is now run by their "kids" Nina and Clark Kirby. As you can see from the badly cropped map (my fault), this wine region is very maritime being surrounded by the sea (obviously); and its cool climate (by Oz standards, it really is: those of you who remember Prisoner Cell Block H, might also remember the grey windy Melbourne weather backdrop in any outside shots. Must have filmed in the winter!) seems to suit Pinots (they have 21 ha of Noir and 5 of Gris) and Chardy (10 ha/25 acres) pretty well. By the way, an unusual and informative feature of their website is listing "chief viticultural hazards": autumn rain and birds, apparently. I digress: I'm glad I tried these wines at the 2010 Wine Australia London tasting, a bit of a find; and the vineyards are still quite young, so better things still should follow. Imported into the UK by Swig Wines, and there's a whole page of worldwide distributors on the site (see below).
2008 Red Claw Chardonnay - nice aromatic oaty leesy nose; subtle buttery fruit vs tight and mineral palate, lively elegant length. 89-91 £15
2008 Yabby Lake Chardonnay - similar to start although develops wilder lees edges vs creamy and full flavours/mouthfeel; again lovely crisp length, elegant structured style. 90-92 £24
2008 Red Claw Pinot Noir - lovely perfumed "sweet/savoury" nose, dried fruit edges with savoury notes; delicious pure Pinot style with refreshing bite, although a tad "hot" perhaps on the finish. £15 88
2008 Yabby Lake Pinot Noir - more delicate, complex and perfumed; again has that fine "sweet/savoury" fruit and style, firmer backbone and elegant length. 90-92 £24

Wakefield - Clare Valley, South Australia

Wakefield is the winery name they use outside of Aus, where they're known as Taylors I believe (something to do with the clout of a slightly famous Port brand, I think). Founder and still owner the Taylor family is also one of Australia's First Families of Wine, a newish association of leading estates in the style of Europe's "Primum Familiae Vini," I presume. Anyway, Wakefield is now a pretty big player at 500 ha/1250 acres of vineyards, all in the Clare Valley no less, making a broad range of wines and price points. Either I was flagging by this point at the 2010 Wine Australia London event, or I'm biased as I went to St. Andrews Uni... so I only tasted a couple of their premium reds from this blue kilt-tinged range. Stratford's Wine Agencies is the UK importer, and they've now set up a US office in Atlanta.
2004 St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon - smoky dried cassis notes with herbal edges; lush mouthfeel vs solid tannins, concentrated and extracted vs delicious tobacco and sweet herb tones. £30 92-94
2004 St Andrews Shiraz - maturing meaty aromas with leather, dark plums and spices; complex tobacco tones vs lush black fruits vs very firm finish still. 90-92

St Hallett - Barossa Valley, South Australia

And not forgetting the Eden Valley too, where they source their consistently attractive Riesling from. A bordering on legendary name, I guess, no doubt partly due to that mythical wine, the "Old Block" Shiraz (made from "60 to 100" year-old vines in Lyndoch, Barossa, plus higher-altitude Eden fruit), although the other two, less expensive Shirazes tasted below are equally striking in their own way. You might want to NB the youthful peppery Touriga Nacional as well; perhaps a signpost that Portuguese (Douro Valley to be precise) red varieties have a promising future here, which seems to make sense. The winemaking team is headed up by Stuart Blackwell and Toby Barlow, assisted by Jeremy Ottawa (centre of attention in the pic above - must be the haircut - at last year's Barossa Wine Show: tough luck to the others but I could copy this one off their blog, but the main site is too "Flash") and Shelley Cox. St Hallett is also now owned by Lion Nathan group (see Petaluma below), by the way; and, no, I don't have shares, just happened to bump into a series of shining wineries all on the same table at Wine Australia, London Feb. 2010 (lazy, moi. Worthwhile though, no?)!
2009 Eden Valley Riesling - softer style with lime blossom aromas and juicy mouthfeel, finishing crisp and mineral. £8.99 87+
2006 Eden Valley Shiraz - offers creamy berry fruit and subtle concentration, lusher on the finish with light toasty oak; still firm vs maturing framework, quite elegant actually. 89
2008 Faith Shiraz - nice dark blackberry and pepper on the nose; lively fruity palate with chunky texture, turning savoury too with big vs rounded tannins and attractive oomph. £10 88
2006 Blackwell Shiraz - darker richer spicier and toastier; lush mouth-coating texture plus commanding power then tighter finish with meaty edges. Wow. £13 90
2006 Old Block Shiraz - smoky vs herbal nose, lush "tar" notes in the mouth; appealing grip and background wood, big spicy mouthful yet still tight and fine-grained. 92
2009 Touriga - wild ripe damson with floral peppery edges; nice rich liquorice fruit vs very solid and fresh backdrop, darker fruit finish vs lively bite. Yum. 87+

Pirie Estate - Tasmania

Highly qualified and experienced Dr. Andrew Pirie was founder and owner of Pipers Brook Vineyard in a previous life. After he sold it - cunningly taking his newly created sparkling brand with him (well, it's got his name on it after all and is one of Australia's finest fizzes) - Andrew stayed in northern Tasmania's cool-climate Tamar Valley region, later becoming head honcho and winemaker at Tamar Ridge. Over the last five years, he's been selecting fruit from the 30 ha (75 acres) he manages to create various labels for his eponymous range. And pretty impeccable it is too, Andrew seems to have real flair for Riesling and Pinot Noir in particular. Tried and tested at the 2010 Wine Australia London roadshow:
Pirie Sparkling - tasty / toasty towards Bolly style: nutty and yeast-lees flavours/textures vs crisp and elegant finish. Yum. £17 89-91
2008 South Sauvignon Blanc - lively piercing intense grassy green fruits; oilier and more exotic in the mouth, crisp asparagus touches vs a bit of weight and good length. £9.50 88+
2008 South Pinot Noir - perfumed cherry fruit with "sweet/savoury" edges; leaner Burgundy style and a bit tart at the mo perhaps, although has attractive ripe vs meaty fruit finish. £9.50 87
2007 Estate Pinot Noir - fuller and more intense, again has subtle yet delicious "sweet/savoury" style; perfumed fruit with chunkier structure, turning meaty on its wow finish. £15 90+
2007 Estate Gewurztraminer - quite lean and zesty style, still pretty crisp and tight for its age with appealing core of lychee fruit. 87+
2008 South Pinot Gris - juicy spicy and honeyed too; zesty crisp and intense, pretty authentic and tasty (dry) Alsace style. 85-87
2006 South Riesling - enticing developing oily and mineral nose; fading citrus fruit and zest, turning petrol-y and mature vs backbone of underlying acidity. 88+
2005 Estate Riesling - classy Alsace "grand cru" type profile and intensity; maturing mineral edges vs concentration, then tightens up with crisp bite still. Wow. 92+?
2007 Reserve Clark's Botrytis Riesling - complex spicy noble rot nose, lush honey and marmalade; classy rich mouthfeel vs elegant bite, pretty fine balance and style. 90+

Mitchelton - Nagambie Lakes, Victoria

Mitchelton was founded over 40 years ago by ground-breaking businessman Ross Shelmerdine and leading wine consultant Colin Preece - there wasn't a lot round these parts (90 minutes north of Melbourne in the middle of nowhere, beautifully set on the Nagambie Lakes) before they planted vineyards and built the still modern-looking winery & restaurant (pic). It's changed hands a few times since then, and Mitchelton is now another member of the fairly exclusive Lion Nathan club (see Petaluma, Knappstein et al below and above). Iconic down-to-earth winemaker Don Lewis finally retired in 2004, succeeded by Ben Haines who's aided and abetted by viticulturist John Beresford. I sampled the following at Wine Australia's 2010 tasting in London:
2007 Viognier - quite wild Rhoney kinda style with lush and exotic fruit/texture; big and fat mouthfeel, flabs out a little on the finish though (too old?).
2008 Shiraz - spicy and pure black cherry nose; quite soft and subtle vs tighter structure underneath, ripe then spicy finish; quite elegant change. £8.99 87+
2006 Crescent Grenache/Mourvèdre/Shiraz - creamy liquorice with cassis and cherry notes; quite elegant and tight on the palate showing mature vs punchy finish, attractive taut style with gamey edges. £13 87-89
2006 Print Shiraz - concentrated and vibrant mouthful with subtle oak layering, firm and punchy vs deliciously rounded. £15 90

Knappstein - Clare Valley, South Australia

The Knappstein "Enterprise Winery & Brewery," as it's called on their website (yet another flashy "Flash" thing that you can't copy images from!), was originally set up as a local brewery in the mid 19th Century, which was reopened in 2006 (I've not tried their lager, anyone out there know/like it?). As for vines, well, you can blame Tim Knappstein who established the vineyards in 1969 and who obviously found a good spot, as the wines they serve have always been consistently good. Current winemaker is Julian Langworthy, and the whole show is now part of the fairly impressive Lion Nathan group (see Petaluma below). Apparently, the winery has also been up to some environmentally friendly goings-on with a local organisation to "rehabilitate" the Hutt River that runs through Clare. These wines were tasted at the 2010 Wine Australia London extravaganza:
2009 Hand Picked Riesling (12%) - floral lime aromas with light tobacco even (what's that about?); fresh clean and lively mouthfeel, fairly easy style with attractive zesty finish. £8.49 85
2008 Ackland Vineyard Riesling (12.5%) - a step or two up: lovely oily mineral nose with complex lime flavours vs oily notes/texture; great bite with classy tight length. £10.99 90+
2007 Cabernet / Merlot - again characteristically tight, Bordeaux-leaning style; firm and punchy vs cassis and plum fruit on its quite elegant finish. £10 88
2007 Shiraz - taut and leaner style of Shiraz showing subtle peppery vs "sweet" fruit; firm framework layered with dark cherries, nice now actually. £10 87
2006 Enterprise Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - more intricate nose with ripe blueberry, cassis, mint and a light sprinkling of vanilla; concentrated big palate with nice oomph vs fine taut tannins, still solid yet turning savoury on its classy finish. £15 90

Greenstone Vineyard - Heathcote, Victoria

The people behind this newish joint-venture and the varieties they decided to plant - mostly Shiraz (17ha/42ac) but a couple of hectares of Sangiovese and one of Monastrell/Mourvedre thrown in too - perhaps speak volumes. David Gleave MW, boss of UK importer Liberty Wines, super-qualified Italian winemaker Alberto Antonini and Mark Walpole, formerly with Brown Brothers and now vineyard manager of this "project". According to the blurb, they chose "an outstanding vineyard on the Heathcote region's red soil," which is definitely an area in central Victoria (a good trek north of Melbourne) that's nurturing some very impressive wines. And the future looks bright for Sangiovese here by the looks of it. Can't wait to try that Monastrell - why didn't they have it up for tasting at this year's (2010) Wine Australia London event, I wonder, unless it's being blended in with the Syrah already?
2006 Heathcote Shiraz - dark and lush black fruits with chocolate oak undertones; tight framework and power vs subtle bite, attractive texture and a bit of class too. £16 88+
2007 Heathcote Sangiovese - smoky Med nose with ripe Morello cherry notes, touches of oak although subtle; nice bite of tannins and acidity even vs maturing dried fruits and toasty oak backdrop. 89+

Clonakilla - Canberra District, NSW

Clonakilla apparently means "meadow of the church" in Irish, named after John Kirk's grandfather’s farm in County Clare who founded the vineyard and winery in 1971. Lying north of Canberra in New South Wales, he first planted a smidgeon of Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling later followed by Shiraz, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which in turn was gradually supplemented by more Shiraz and Riesling, Viognier for the first time and the enlarged Cabernet family. In 1998, John's son Tim purchased the adjoining 20-hectare/50-acre estate and added yet more Shiraz and Viognier with olive trees alongside.
As it says on their website, and as you can guess from that fascinating planting info I just detailed, Shiraz has performed particularly well here. Excited by what he discovered on a trip to the great Guigals in the northern Rhone, Tim started putting a dash of Viognier into their Shiraz from 1992 onwards and claims to be the first to do this in Aus. The wines may seem rather (or reassuringly perhaps) dear, but the poor things only produce 9000 cases a year although are sold in the UK, US, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand... so, a couple of cases each then. This interesting Shiraz duo was tasted at Wine Australia's London bash in February 2010:
2008 Hilltops Shiraz - quite seductive spicy cherry fruit, peppery and pure with a wilder side too; subtle oak coating and rounded vs tight and firm framework. £15 88+
2007 O'Riada Canberra District Shiraz - pure minty style with dried cherry and raisin edges; solid powerful palate with again that taut feel vs wild herb/garrigue tones, captivating stuff. £27 90

Paxton Vineyards - McLaren Vale, South Australia

Pioneering viticulture consultant David Paxton established his own vineyards in McLaren Vale back in 1979, which have been farmed along biodynamic lines since 2006 (one of about 30 certified in Aus, although several others are dabbling and might head that way). He's also a member, and the only winery in Oz by the looks of it, of onepercentfortheplanet.org by the way, a non-profit organisation that receives 1% of their sales revenue, it says, to fund environmental projects. David's two sons work at the family estate - winemaker Michael and Ben who looks after cellar door, functions etc - along with "senior viticulturist" Toby Bekkers and sales & marketing guy Paul Limpus. And Loque the winery dog. Overall, there are five Paxton vineyards: the Thomas Block, Jones Block, Quandong Farm, Landcross farm and Maslin Vineyard; totalling 75 hectares or nearly 200 acres. Their UK importer is Stratford's Wine Agencies and Vinotech Selection in the US (NJ).
2009 Shiraz rosé - juicy spicy minty style, moving on to ripe oily red fruits then nice refreshing and crisp bite. £10.99 85
2007 Chardonnay - buttery, nutty, maturing, oatmeal aromas/flavours; lovely balance of rich cream and lees, maturing fruit vs mineral and still alive. £18.99 90-92
2007 AAA Shiraz Grenache - sweet liquorice vs herbal berry notes; attractive soft and juicy palate, quite mature and drinking now with subtle finish. £10.99 87+
2008 Quandong Shiraz - rich dark black fruits, spicy and punchy mouthfeel turning firm and tight; wilder savoury edges vs underlying sweetness vs dry grip closing up the finish a little. £15.50 88-90
2005 Jones Block Shiraz - maturing and meaty vs rich cassis; spicy and tasty palate, quite elegant and complex, keeps going. £18.99 90-92
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon - minty cassis with meaty/leather notes; tightens up with quite firm and solid mouthfeel, powerful and a touch austere at the mo but does show fair depth. 87
2009 Tempranillo - nice juicy glugger, dry vs "sweet" liquorice palate; could be good in a few years (young vines). 83-85
2008 MV Shiraz - ripe vs spicy and juicy, again pretty easy compared to some of the others vs a bit of bite to finish. 83-85
2006 Elizabeth Jean 100 year-old Shiraz - complex smoky nose with dark cherry, blackberry and a touch of vanilla; intense and lush palate vs herbal-edged fruit, punchy solid vs fine length and again finishing with savoury vs liquorice flavours. 90+

Petaluma - Adelaide Hills, South Australia

And more specifically the Piccadilly Valley, home to some almost legendary Chardonnay vineyards (as the source of a couple of fine benchmark Chardys); as well as newer plantings of Viognier and Shiraz elsewhere in the Adelaide Hills, the Clare Valley for Riesling and Coonawarra for mostly Cabernet and Merlot. Petaluma was owned, established and built up to an impressive quality level by emblematic winegrower/maker Brian Croser, who always seems to have plenty of interesting and punchy things to say about the Oz wine industry. He sold the winery and brand to Lion Nathan (a large Aus/NZ brewing & drinks group) a few years ago and has since set up his own label (Tapanappa), although on evidence of the wines below, standards at Petaluma haven't dropped. Tellingly perhaps, LNG also owns several other quality-focused wineries (Knappstein, Mitchelton, Stonier, Smithbrook, St. Hallett) so appears to be committed to this policy. These were tasted at Wine Australia's modestly titled London show in February 2010 (billed as "World Class Australia"):
2009 Hanlin Hill Riesling - zesty "phenolic" (those lively aromatic qualities you get from pre-fermentation skin contact) chalky tones, concentrated vs crisp palate, lively tight finish. Promising. 89-91 £10
2008 Hanlin Hill Riesling - wilder more intense style, nice concentration with oily vs zesty mouthfeel; very attractive mix of oily developing fruit vs still tight and long. 90-92 £10
2007 Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay - classy toasty buttery vs maturing complex notes vs tight and refreshing finish; lovely balance. 90-92 £15
2006 Tiers Chardonnay - toastier yet with lusher fruit and finishing on wilder, yeast-lees edges; again shows fab mix of maturing and intricate vs tight and long. 92-94 £36
2009 Viognier - subdued yet exotic fruit with spicy vs creamy notes, firm acidity vs rounded and weighty, but nicely reined in style; should be very good (a little youthful and closed up at the mo). 88 £15
2007 Shiraz - peppery with ripe cassis and quite a bit of vanilla-y sweet oak; attractive texture and oomph vs spicy/sweet black fruit, closing up on its nice finish showing more subtle oak integration. 89-91 £15
2007 Coonawarra (Cabernet/Merlot/Syrah/Petit Verdot) - pretty oaky and toasty with bitter dark chocolate finish, although it's still tight and looking young... £20

This paragraph contains a few assorted favourites from around Oz, all tasted at Boutinot's trade bash in the Tower of London (mind your head) February 2007 and mini-profiled in Aug 07:
Cascabel - McLaren Vale, South Australia
2003 Shiraz, Fleurieu region - smoky bacon notes mingle with peppery tangy fruit on the palate, quite powerful finish. UK retail approx £15 87
Taltarni - Pyrenees, Victoria
2004 T Series Shiraz/Cabernet - nice spicy fruit, quite serious at this price. £6.50-£7 85-87
2002 Pyrenees Shiraz - complex maturing berry fruit with savoury edges, elegant soft palate and length. £12 90
2004 Heathcote Shiraz - more intense spice and black cherry fruit, tight palate with fresh finish. £16 90
2002 Cephas (Shiraz Cabernet) - more chocolate oak and concentration, tighter firmer finish. £17 90
The Lane - Adelaide Hills, South Australia
2001 Reunion Shiraz - quite meaty v dark fruit backdrop, maturing and soft v attractive dry tannins and powerful finish. Pricey £20-£22 89+
Tallarook - Upper Goulburn, Victoria
An exciting discovery, Luis Riebl's 'natural' wines are refined yet occasionally approach 'extreme' in winemaking style; and pretty good value too considering the quality.
2004 Chardonnay - milky v peachy, intense with creamy yet fresh and powerful mouth-feel. £9-£10 88-90
2004 Marsanne - quite yeasty and lactic nose, fat hazelnut fruit, oxidising yet complex and lingering; different. £9-£10 90-92
2005 Roussanne - intense herby tones with creamy white peach backdrop, quite delicate and fresh. £9-£10 88-90
2006 Viognier - delicate apricot and flowers on the nose, attractively lively v weighty palate. £9-£10 90-92
2004 Shiraz/Viognier - attractive herbal tones on perfumed black cherry fruit, elegant and soft v light grip and power. £9-£10 90-92
Keith Tulloch - Hunter Valley, New South Wales
2005 Semillon - a bit reduced/funky on the nose, leads on to a tight closed up palate then subtle waxier finish, not very revealing at the mo. £9.75 87
2002 Kester Shiraz - very smoked bacon, savoury v peppery, tangy fruit with fresh finish. Expensive though at £18.50 a bottle. 87-89
Peter Lehmann Wines - Barossa Valley

Perhaps better known for classic Shiraz and Cabernet, South Australia's Peter Lehmann hogged the limelight in 2006 for their white wines, especially Riesling (although I've always rather liked the Barossa Semillon too). In the International Wine Challenge, their 2001 Reserve Riesling was awarded Australian White Wine Trophy and Australian Riesling Trophy (how many trophies do you need in a competition like this by the way?); and 2005 Eden Valley Riesling a gold medal. If that wasn't enough, PLW then scooped IWC White Winemaker of the Year plus the International Wine & Spirit Competition's worldwide Riesling trophy. “Not bad for a traditional red winemaker from a traditional red wine district!” chief winemaker Andrew Wigan commented wryly. Anyway, I find the elegant pure style of their Rieslings very appealing, and these two, sampled in Dec 06, have around 12% alcohol by volume:
2005 Riesling, Barossa Valley - floral with oily citrus notes, chalky texture and freshness v maturing fruit roundness. 87+
2006 Riesling, Eden Valley - surprisingly soft and delicate with nicely intense flowery white peach fruit, zesty extract and subtle fresh acidity; a little closed up at the moment, yet it's underlying fine structure and length bode well. 89-91
And this red duo was originally featured under Previous Wines of the Moment, tasted October 2004:
2002 Barossa Shiraz (14.5%) - classic traditional style showing rich colour, viscosity and extract; spicy coconut nose enhanced by lovely ripe black cherry and currant fruit, complex earthy notes and lightly developing liquorice & 'tar' nuances too; good concentration and depth of 'sweet' fruit, nice bite of rounded tannins, smoky finish and long fruity flavour, making the big 14.5% alcohol not so noticeable. Great if you like this kind of wine: I do but only with hearty food! 90
2002 Clancy's Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc, Barossa Valley (14%) - touch of complex volatile earthy notes, also mint with ripe black fruits, a hint of spice and a meaty edge too; nice rich cassis fruit supported by cinnamon oak, powerful firm finish yet also has 'sweetness', then gets tighter closing up a little. 87+
Mount Donnybrook - Western Australia

Three wines from Western Oz made by Michael Hope for ALDI stores in the UK and I guess Ireland too, given that the prices are quoted at £6.99 or €11.99 a bottle? Overall pretty good value for money, although I found the Shiraz the least interesting (too oaky). Tasted May 2006:
2003 Shiraz (13.5%) - dominated by vanilla oak at first, the day after opening it showed more savoury characters v spicy black plum fruit, quite restrained style yet still fairly rich v soft tannins; would be better with less oak though. 85+
2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (14%) - much less oaky than the Shiraz offering attractive earthy cassis fruit, ripe soft palate v quite powerful alcohol; nevertheless, it's also fairly elegant and fine. 88+
2005 Chardonnay (13.5%) - light mealy creamy oak notes with ripe peach and pineapple; nice 'sweet' fruit v subtle toast and yeast-lees characters, fair power yet fresh and dry finish. 87+

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.