Before I get into Australian Wine Journal's first look at a winery restaurant, I'll do a brief overview of some of the wines I tasted at the cellar door.
These short tasting notes are taken from memory (no writings), but it had only been about three months since I last tasted this range. The only wines which were tasted for the first time were the 2006 Botrytis Sweet White and the 2009 Grenache Rose.
Woodstock Grenache Rose 2009 ($18) Very candied, sweetish, distinctly pink rose. My girlfriend said it had remnants of cat pee like bad sauvignon blanc. I remember this wine being a little drier and more bearable (to me) in recent vintages but the 2009 is definitely not my style. 82
Woodstock Grenache 2007 ($20) Unoaked. Juicy, fruit forward style made for easy drinking with soft, yet present structure. Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, shows more confectionary elements than most from the Vale. 86
Woodstock Shiraz 2006 ($22) Displays good concentration and depth of dark fruit and chocolate characters at this price, but just needs more vibrancy for me (as offered by the Stocks). 88
Woodstock Cabernet Sauvignon ($22) Distinctly regional cabernet, almost too regional and not varietal enough. Contains lots of chocolate and plum flavour, with hints of cabernet leafiness and dusty tannin evident in the finish, so you know what you're drinking. Nice. 90
Woodstock The Stocks Shiraz 2006 ($60) Reviewed post below. 93
Woodstock Botrytis Sweet White 2006 ($20) More of an uncomplicated dessert wine for those who like their stickies light, fresh and slightly sweet, not luscious or complex. All the same this was a big hit with the group of 13 I tasted with, but not really me. 87
Woodstock Fortified Shiraz 2006 ($20) Still retains shiraz colour and character, but with great depth and richness. Long, distinctly spicy, peppery finish a real highlight. 89
Woodstock Very Old Fortified NV ($45) Made from base wines with an average age of 23 years. Strong sultana nose with a luscious, rich palate offset by nice acidity and lingering, sweet nutty tones. 91
Sunday lunch at Woodstock Coterie is always promoted with some mention of 'Live Jazz' music. So, I must admit to being a little disappointed that their 'Live Jazz' was just a combination of one guy playing keyboard and another with a microphone - yes - the singer scatted, but it certainly wasn't the 'Live Jazz' band I envisaged with trumpets, drums, guitar et al. The two guys did do a good job of providing pleasant, ambient background music for sunday lunch though.
The highlights of Woodstock's Coterie would have to be the food quality and the decor. The place looks a treat, very traditional Australian yet classy, and fits in with its natural environment ( of abundant gum trees offset by vineyards) beautifully.
The natural oysters with salmon roe I had for entree were strongly flavoured and obviously fresh. They were lifted well by the salmon roe which added texture as well as a nice touch of saltiness. Personally though, I do prefer my oysters a little less intense on fishy flavour. I tend to go for natural oysters as more of a texturally based appetiser, rather than a fish flavoured explosion.
My $34 Prime Beef Fillet main course was very fine, if more medium than medium-rare. The fillet was pleasingly thick and tender with a classic red wine based jus, but the highlight here was definitely the bed of oxtail and porcini risoni which the fillet lay on - absolutely delicious. The risoni was cooked to perfection, not too tough or dry, which allowed the meat to be texturally assertive. And the oxtail was beautiful, I'd love to see this meat used as a main on their menu - oxtail lasagna maybe? All the same, it was certainly worthy of its $34 price tag.
In fact, the food was enjoyed by all who ate on the day. The vegetarian arancina balls especially looked delightful, and the whiting entree proved a real hit, however, it was the dessert which really set tongues wagging (unfortunately I had none ;( From memory the most popular was the chocolate terrine with a tiramisu/chambord sauce?
The wine list is unsurprisingly Woodstock, with the sparkling wines (Woodstock don't make any) compromising of Billecart-Salmon and Starvedog Lane Vintage 2002 ($36 a bottle, quite fair) as the best selections. As a bonus, all current vintage Woodstock wines are available by the glass, with The Stocks fetching $16.50 at the high end.
As to be expected for a winery restaurant the glassware is excellent. Standard Riedel red tasting glasses were set to every table, and their petit, tulip shaped champagne flutes were beautiful and made for enjoyable drinking. Unfortunately, fortified and dessert wines were served in standard tasting glasses. After the excellent glassware offered for still and sparkling wines, it would've been nice to see the after dinner wines served in appropriate port/liqueur glasses.
A real downer though would have to of been wine service. After having dealt with Woodstock staff on the wine side of things many times, I've certainly noticed they're exceptional with wine service. All red wines at cellar door are always double decanted, sometimes when the previous bottle is nearing empty rather than waiting until it is empty, and I've even seen a Woodstock rep immediately triple decanter a bottle at a tasting once. With this in mind I expected typically excellent service at the Coterie.
I ordered a bottle of their flagship 2006 Stocks Shiraz almost as soon as we were seated, well before any food was ordered. I asked if it would be decanted, and was pleased (but not surprised) to hear it would. My intentions were that they'd decant the wine almost immediately, and whether they placed it on the table or not, we'd wait 30-60 minutes before divulging so we could enjoy this big shiraz closer to its best.
As we were seated within view of the bar, I managed to see a staff member get our bottle of The Stocks and a decanter, and place them on the bar. Unfortunately, that's as far as it went. There the bottle sat, unopened, for nearly an hour. At which point my girlfriend (who was getting thirsty) went and enquired 'where is this bottle of Stocks we ordered an hour ago?'
A waitress then came over to our table with unopened bottle and decanter in hand (at this point main courses were beginning to be served), opened the bottle and proceeded to decant it. After decanting, the waitress told us:- "You'll probably need to wait 5 min before drinking this". -WHY DO YOU THINK I ORDERED IT AN HOUR AGO! I rather angrily thought, but didn't say, as we were in a large group and I didn't want to create a wine-wankerish type scene.
For me, this equates to poor wine service. Especially after seeing how much better character The Stocks presented after extended aeration. If I was at home, I would've easily given it an hour in the decanter, but more likely two at least. The winery/restaurant which spawned this wine should also serve it with the same respect.
The other grumble for me and everyone else on the day was speed, or lack there of; of service. We arrived for a 1pm booking and didn't get out until 4:30pm. The Coterie really isn't a good place to go for McLaren Vale lunch if you intend on doing McLaren Vale wine tasting afterwards. Especially noticeable was a large gap after main course was finished, when no one seemed to be able to get any of the waiting staff's attention. In the end I had to go and find the head waiter myself to ask for dessert menus for the table - now that's always annoying.
In lieu of these concerns the Woodstock Coterie is actually a very good winery restaurant. It's undoubtedly one of the best in the Vale and certainly deserves its reputation. The decor is very eye catching and appealing, and the food is well above average by winery restaurant standards - although not absolutely mind-blowing (like d'Arenberg or some meals I've had at the Saloppian Inn). It's very hard to fault any of their reasonably priced cuisine. Next time though, taking time constraints into consideration, I'll probably go there for a lunch - no entree or dessert.
I give it 7/10.