Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Another interest of mine is Whisky, I can't be sure when it became interesting, but it definitely got serious when I attended my first Johnnie Walker Black Label Journey. I was fascinated by the variety and depth of the single malts that go into the blend. Over years, I had dabbled with some good drops coming to love Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Talisker as my regulars. Slowly trying each of these single malts, I had thought I had it all covered. That was until I was introduced to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Following introduction, it was in quick order to organise a tasting. You may have seen or been to the tutored tasting on 6 May, which introduced a whole new level of whisky. These beasts are single cask, single malts from all the great distilleries that you know and love from their commercial bottling range. We were lucky to be shown 4 of these rare bottlings, from: Clynelish 7yo, Glen Grant 13yo, Highland Park 12yo (commercial) & 26yo, and Laphroaig 9yo.

For mine sample were of great diversity, showing the range and depth of whisky but if I may choose two, I would have to say the 26yo Highland Park stood out for the sort of complexity that comes with such age. Only 146 bottles ever made, Shiver Me Timbers, showed the reason that these bottlings are so very special. My own pick, reflective of my own whisky palate, What a magnificent & handsome nose, was a peat monster. Great industrial nose, cigars and just great all-round drop. If you are lucky, you may one-day get a dram of this.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Vale: A Final Word

South Australia is truly blessed with great wine regions and McLaren Vale is a fantastic example of just that. It speaks to a sense of place, the geology, the terroir, the community. It embodies a list of winemakers and grape growers that strive to express themselves through their art.

The route to Cabernet and Cabernet Blends Tasting was cross-country viticulture tour From Penny's Hill & Mr Riggs to Maxwell Wines via Chalks Hill. The picks of this lot were:
  • 2006 Geoff Merrill G&W Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2007 Geoff Merrill Wickham Park Merlot
  • 2008 Geoff Merrill Fleurieu Cabernet Shiraz
  • 2008 Kay Brothers The Cuthbert Cabernet Sauvignon - STANDOUT
  • 2008 Kay Brothers Basket Pressed Merlot
  • 2008 Kay Brothers Basket Pressed Cabernet/Merlot
  • 2008 Maxwell Wines Lime Cave Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 Maxwell Wines Little Demon Cabernet/Merlot
  • 2007 Mitolo Serpico Cabernet Sauvignon - STANDOUT
  • 2009 Wirra Wirra Sparrows Lodge Cabernet Sauvignon
The final master class was at the Woodstock Coterie featuring Grenache in two brackets of four wines which proved to be (with the notes of curiosity):
  • 2010 Wirra Wirra Original Blend Grenache Shiraz - great qwoffer [honourable mention]
  • 2009 Penny's Hill Grenache - Fleshy, sea salt and summer fruits
  • 2009 Chapel Hill Old Bush Vine Grenache - dried apricots, light confectionary
  • 2009 Kay Brothers Grenache - fairy floss, confectionary, lovely tannins and clean finish [GREAT DROP]
  • 2009 Shingleback Red Knot Grenache - Limestone & Orange
  • 2009 Maximus Cadenzia GSM - This is featuring on the PM's table [TOP PICK]
  • 2008 d'Arenberg Ironstone Pressing GSM - Love to see in 5-10 [honourable mention]
  • 2007 Yangarra High Sands Grenache - I can't believe there is no oak! [GREAT DROP]
McLaren Vale is the Italian to Barossa's German, expressing varieties that are best shared with food or at very least don't dominate them. I associate McLaren Vale with the fruity mid palate and the perfume. Grenache and Shiraz are the stand outs for mine, and obviously for the community of McLaren Vale with Scarce Earth and Cadenzia.

This is a region of olde favourites, namely:
  • d'Arenberg
  • Samuel's Gorge
  • Chapel Hill, and
  • Woodstock
but I will take it on that more attention needs to be given to some new finds:
  • DogRidge
  • Kay Brothers
  • Maxwell
  • Wirra Wirra
  • Yangarra
  • Penny's Hill
  • Mitolo
  • Paxton, and
  • Scarpantino
And that is all I have to say about the Vale...

Another Day in the Vale

There is something about walking into the garden at Coriole that triggers The Godfather Theme to instantly play in my head. You could imagine Vito, Fredo, Connie and Sonny all sitting in the partial shade sharing an bountiful feast with la famiglia. Maybe that is just me...

While some were worse for wear in the morning, I was about ready to go again as we pulled into Coriole for Breakfast, Whites, Rosés and Sparklings. Breakfast was not only much needed, but also a great opportunity to catch up with d'Arry Osborn.

In the theme of yesterday, there were some olde favourites and some new found joys.

Of the olde favourites d'Arenberg tops the list, with Peppermint Paddock, Hermit Crab and Dry Dam but from the newly founds:
  • 2010 DogRidge The Pup Sparkling Chardonnay
  • 2010 DogRidge Moscato
  • 2010 Geoff Merrill Bush Vine Grenache Rosé
  • 2010 Paxton Shiraz Rosé
  • 2010 Scarpantoni Ceres Gamay Rosé
  • NV Scarpantoni Fleurieu Sparkling Red
  • NV Scarpantoni Black Tempest
It was time for Penny's Hill and Mr Riggs for a Cabernet Master Class. The two brackets of four wines proved to be (with the notes of curiosity):
  • 2009 Mitolo Jester Cabernet Sauvignon - slight grippiness to the tannins, menthol, stewed oranges
  • 2009 Penny's Hill Cabernet Sauvignon - great length, fruit cake
  • 2009 Kangarilla Rd Cabernet Sauvignon - well structured lines, great tannin and length with the signature mid palate fruit
  • 2009 Woodstock Cabernet Sauvignon - Savoury, tobacco, definitive oak
  • 2009 Chapel Hill The Chosen Cabernet Sauvignon - Dark, brooding, ripe fruits [honourable mention]
  • 2009 Shingleback 'D' Block Cabernet Sauvignon - Chunky fruit, dark ruby colour, mintiness [honourable mention]
  • 2009 Wirra Wirra The Angelus Cabernet Sauvignon - Cedar Wood, brambly fruit [Best of Class]
  • 2003 Geoff Merrill Pimpala Vineyard Cabernet Merlot - Greenery/Shrubs, oaky, aged and still going. [Great Drop]

5 years in Air Force, 50 in the Wine Industry

Following on, the first afternoon in McLaren Vale tour was started with Shiraz and Shiraz Blends Tasting at Kangarilla Road. 40 different samples from the region where on show, further to those that stood out in the Master Class, my picks were:
  • 2009 d'Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier
  • 2008 d'Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz
  • 2008 d'Arenberg d'Arry's Original Shiraz Grenache
  • 2005 Geoff Merrill Reserve Shiraz
  • 2008 Kay Brothers Hillside Shiraz
  • 2008 Kay Brothers Basket Pressed Shiraz
  • 2008 Maxwell Ellen Street Shiraz
  • 2008 Mitolo Jester Shiraz
  • 2009 Mitolo Savitar Shiraz
  • 2009 Paxton MV Shiraz
  • 2009 Paxton AAA Shiraz Grenache
  • 2009 Penny's Hill The Skeleton Key' Shiraz
  • 2007 Yangarra Ironheart Shiraz

but by this stage the most impressive drop was the 'hail mary' from McLaren/Vale Beer/Company and their Vale/Ale and Vale/Dry.

After a chopper flight over the region and quick refresh at the McLaren Vale Motel, it was off to Willunga. The dinner plans were at Russell's Pizza accompanied by Aged Wine, Fortified and Stickies.

Now Russell's Pizza is quite the institution around the Vale, only opening Friday and Saturday evenings. In a rustic shed with big trestle tables, the pizza coming out of the wood-fired ovens leaves no doubt why it is a regular sell out. If you get the chance, eat there!

My opening drop was a 1998 Coriole Chenin Blanc that was simply sublime, the difficult job of staying on the wine after such a big day was made much easier by such a fine drop. But that was as far as I got before Scott from Woodstock had found me to show off a few of his craft.

His opening gambit was the 2008 Pilot's View Shiraz, an ode to Douglas Collett A.M. Douglas was a Spitfire and Hurricane pilot over Europe in WWII, the views from which was said to influence his decision to enter the wine industry on return to Australia. It is from his autobiography that the title of this post is taken. In 1973, he purchased Woodstock Wines which is now in the hands of his son Scott, who had some more plans for me in the name of 1999 & 2001 The Stocks Shiraz. True to the Woodstock name, you could probably pull the splinters out of your tongue even after a decade in the bottle. Great big tannins that are unique to this singular winery.

My other special mention for the evening goes out to Kay Brothers Rare Muscat, which was the last wine for me... till the morning...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The First Morning

To be clear this was a wine appreciation trip. After a quick stop at Toops Hill, view shown left, I was off to Yangarra Estate the hosts of the Grenache and Grenache Blends tasting, not to mention a much needed coffee and a bite of breakfast.

The standouts from the tasting were:
So what is Cadenzia? Well it is a wine that is 100% McLaren Vale fruit, Grenache-dominant and approved by the members, or more eloquently from the McLaren Vale site:

"Cadenzia - n. A creative and individual expression of McLaren Vale Grenache made by an inspired winemaker to demonstrate harmony, excitement and energy.

McLaren Vale’s CADENZIA project makes music from Grenache. Great composers like Beethoven and Bach often left gaps in their sheet music, where the lead soloist could play a Cadenza, letting go some heartfelt improvisation before returning to the score.

At the end of vintage, McLaren Vale’s winemakers look away from the score and infuse some virtuoso interplay with Grenache, each blending something that’s rhythmically driving: CADENZIA. Music you can drink."

Really the Cadenzia project is one of those organised things that define a region, a deliberate pursuit of an expression of place and style. Similarly, for Shiraz, McLaren Vale has recently launched the Scarce Earth project. And although these great wines weren't on the schedule, a Shiraz Master Class was -- off to

Wirra Wirra.

On show turned out to be (with my notes of curiosity):

  • 2006 Ulithorne Frux Frugis Shiraz - Aged Release (Feb 2009), Graceful

  • 2008 Mitolo GAM Shiraz - Made by Ben Glaetzer

  • 2008 Maximus Shiraz - Colour & Blackcurrant

  • 2008 DogRidge Shirtfront Shiraz - Surprise Find

  • 2008 Paxton Jones Block Vineyard Shiraz - Great Savoury Drop

  • 2008 Woodstock The Stocks - Great one to age, Nearly get splinters

  • 2008 d'Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz - Well known, Greatness

  • 2008 Chapel Hill Vicar - Could've sworn it was a Grenache... Apricots

  • 2009 Maxwell Silver Hammer - Ripper food wine

  • 2009 Shingleback The Gate - Taste directly follows nose

  • 2009 Wirra Wirra Woodhenge Shiraz - Another great Foody; and

  • 2009 Yangarra - Perfume and Purple.

You can see how detailed tasting notes could get lost! If I had to pick the top 5... Shirtfront, Silver Hammer, The Stocks, Vicar & Dead Arm with honourable mentions to GAM, Woodhenge and Maximus.

Well it was now 1225 on Day 1, and time to head for the burgeoning varieties tasting at Chapel Hill. The highlights were:

2010 Coriole Sangiovese
2009 Coriole Sangiovese Shiraz
2006 d'Arenberg Sticks and Stones Tempranillo Grenache Tinta Cao Souzoa
2009 d'Arenberg Cenosilicaphic Cat Sagrantino Cinsault
2005 DogRidge MVP Petit Verdot
2009 Kangarilla Rd Sangiovese
2008 Kay Brothers Basket Pressed Mataro
2009 Yangarra Mourvedre, and
2010 Yangarra Roussane.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

One Thing Leads To Another...

The quality of the South Australian Wine Regions, often leads to some oversight of the wonderfully diverse and old region of McLaren Vale. I am guilty of too often stopping at the same olds, but who isn't?

The standard tour that I would run around McLaren Vale when I resided there, would start with d'Arenberg, then onto Chapel Hill, before the amazing Samuel's Gorge. There might occasionally be a new opportunity stop, such as Woodstock, but really they were just speed bumps on the way to Hahndorf for lunch, but you have heard about that before.

I recently got the opportunity to have a deeper look at the region, 30 km South of Adelaide. The region is firmly rooted in viticulture, grape-growers with a purpose and a region with a sense of place. The story of the region goes beyond the 1838 Reynell first plantings to geological formations and change of the order of 1.6 Billion years history. The remnant soils on geology are attributed with many of the unique characteristics displayed by McLaren Vale wine. No more clear than the abundant citing of perfume arising from the sand on clay from Blewett Springs.

But geology and soils are but a part of the oft misattributed terroir. Climate and geography are critical components too. McLaren Vale, bounded by the Gulf of St Vincent, from Hallet Cove to Sellicks Beach sees coastal climate-moderating effects typical to the Mediterranean, where the southern Mount Lofty Ranges crash into the sea. The border of the region runs up the foothills along Willunga Fault until it reaches the Adelaide Hills region at around Clarendon. The belly of this approximate triangle is undulated and diversity of terrain, incorporating:
  • Ancient Rocks,
  • Sand and Sandstone
  • Limestone Country,
  • Clay Plains of Aldinga,
  • The Piedmont,
  • Talus Slope, and
  • Alluvial Flats.
To round out this introduction to McLaren Vale, I should probably introduce the wines. Based on 2008 figures, the region produces approximately 80% Red Wine of which it is dominated by Shiraz (66.4%) with some supporting roles by Cabernet Sauvignon (15.9%), Grenache (6.7%) and Merlot (5.2%). In the White Wines, the usual suspect of Chardonnay (54%) is the major, supported by Semillon (12.3%), Sauvignon Blanc (11.9%) and Riesling (4.7%).

I promise we will eventually get to the wines...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2011 Harvest Festival

After a previous post, I was tempted to try something a little more than wine, jazz & cheese. The first such place visited was Little Bridge Wines, an intriguing quadrumvirate dabbling and seemingly doing well in their efforts. I recommend the site linked above to read of their tale. It is a refreshing change to "Alfred who begot Gertrude who begot Caufield succeeded by Jiminy", if you take my meaning.

Their range includes a Vintage Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Shiraz, Cabernet Blend and a Cabernet Sauvignon. Personally, I was taken with the Riesling and the Cabernets (although the latter may have been inspired by another little Bordeaux-styled number).

It wasn't particularly the wine that drew us there, as I was embarrassingly ignorant of them, nor was it the obligatory "band & cheese" that is the apparent cost of featuring a winery in the Canberra region. The attraction of something novel is what made the decision for us, that novel thing was the opportunity to make wine.

The details were sketchy and barely made more clear prior to arrival, but true to the promise, there were freshly picked Pinot Noir grapes (reportedly of 13.4 Baume). The deal for the day was merely to see to the crushing of the Pinot and the beginning of fermentation. A simple contribution but with the promise of further involvement and ultimately some wine at the end, well worth the effort.

Some other wineries visited on the return journey were Affleck Vineyard, who offered a range of very decent drops at very approachable prices, and Shepherd's Run, who were overrun and not accommodating to our party.

I look forward to more novelty in the future of the Canberra Region.