Sunday, June 28, 2009


Well, another year, another fantastic day at the Edinburgh Shiraz Challenge.

Fortunately for the organisers temperature wasn't a concern this time round. Even though it was a mere 17 degrees outside, the sun shone brightly on the great white marquee, providing an idyllic setting for those fortunate enough to get a spot in the beer garden for post-tasting drinks/nibbles/wind down.

The day began with a fairly hectic start, as there was a line up of roughly a couple hundred people waiting to get in from around 11am. This was the first time I've seen such a line up at the Shiraz Challenge (say 15-30 min wait), so I expected things to be busier than usual upon entry. Surprisingly I was wrong, as crowd numbers were fairly typical for the event. My estimates would say somewhere around 500-600 people.

The crowd consisted of the Ed's usual 'mature', sophisticated and classy patrons, but it's always good to see some younger tasters getting into the action. I was particularly impressed by some of the young wine reps assigned to the Shiraz Challenge this year. These young wine fanatics really breathed a new lease of life into the day for me. In most cases they were polite, articulate, generous, personable, and supported very sound knowledge of their products. It's just a shame there was so many wines to taste and so little time, I would've loved to spend a bit more time conversing with the future faces of our wine industry. Who knows? Maybe the next wave of industry leaders could've been standing in that very marquee? (But more likely Roseworthy or somewhere like that ;)

As for the wines there were a couple of trends I noticed amongst the 300 or so exhibitors.

There seemed to be a significant number of ultra ripe wines smoothed out by sweet oak present (mainly South Australia and certainly 2007s). Although fairly pretty and drinkable now, these certainly aren't exceptional wines and in most cases lacked the structural elements required for genuine development. I don't think anyone would disagree with me that the last few years have been fairly unkind for shiraz in South Australia.

Despite being obviously misrepresented I was rather impressed by some of the interstate wines on offer. Of the few interstate wineries present, it was apparent most of them left their reserve level or better wines at home (Best's, Mount Pleasant, Cape Mentelle and Mount Langi were prime examples), this ran in contradiction to the local boys who generally seemed very happy to have their best wines on show. However, what was there from the other states really proved to me that these regions have caught up to South Australian shiraz in the value for money stakes. In most cases they proved a delightful, if occasional, contrast to the ripe, sweetly fruited wines so common throughout the day.

One last point I want to make before delving into my tasting notes is about McLaren Vale 2006 shiraz. As a group they were the clear standouts of the tasting. Some fruity, vibrant wines yes, but still retaining that natural balance and structure which is essential to magnificent wines.


I just want to enforce the point here that all these notes were conducted on tastings, or samples. Anyone associated with me knows how much I value actually drinking wine in reasonable quantity, taking time to understand each wine for accurate assessment. That is why these relatively brief notes are included here under a separate post, and will not be entered into the Wine Reviews section. Prices have been included to give readers some idea of the exceptional value offered on the day.


Okay, so maybe I'm a little biased towards this wine as I lived in Reynella for the first 20 years of my life, but by my recollections this is the third straight magnificent vintage of this traditional label (2004-96pts, 2005-95pts). The label itself is presently in the middle of some serious controversy (well, one vineyard in particular), but I'm going to leave that matter alone for now as long as they keep smashing out top wines like this. Deep set nose, lively aromas of raspberries and cassis with well defined cedar/vanilla oak. Wonderfully smooth, almost creamy palate, with a perfectly restrained extract of creamy vanilla/chocolate oak caressing its vibrant fruit in a soft, silky manner. Outstanding drive, depth and persistence of flavour. A superb example of old vine McLaren Vale shiraz. 95

Admittedly this was far from the first time I've tasted this wine. From what was a variable year at best in the Vale, Corrina Rayment fashioned this outstanding shiraz with her trademark finesse, elegance and longevity. Even and harmonious nose, very classy, fragrant cedar/mocha oak meshed with reserved (rare for vintage) regional red and dark fruits. Incredibly elegant for both region and vintage, with deep, vibrant flavours which extend long into the aftertaste, developing into accentuated fruit and olive nuances. 94

A great return to form for this, one of Clare's most important shiraz labels, after a disappointing 2005 release. Compellingly vibrant nose. Jujube like fruit profile complemented by assertive chocolate/coconut oak. Medium-bodied Clare style with juicy fruit palate, lightly spicy finish and good, but not aggressive tannins. Extremely drinkable and approachable - a top medium term prospect (especially under Stelvin luxe). 94

One of the annual highlights of the Shiraz Challenge for me is the brief chance I get to talk to Woodstock chief Scott Collett, after all, I did vote the 2004 Stock's 'Best Wine of Day' at the 2007 Challenge. Unfortunately Scott was away on business in Queensland this year, but his young female colleague provided one of the bright spots of my day. On opening a new bottle of The Stock's she enquired if I minded waiting a minute for her to aerate the wine; 'not at all!' I replied. She proceeded to triple decant the bottle in less than a minute. I've encountered many cellar door hands/reps who could learn from her about wine service...Rather oaky on the nose but very pleasant and classy. Lovely nutty/cedar/vanilla oak fragrance with an understated regional fruit base. Smooth and vibrant, beautifully long, savoury finish with handsome oak overlapping its vivid red/dark fruit flavours. A great shiraz, it's just a shame about the new, cheaper looking bottle/label. 94

In my brief encounters with 2007 Hilltops shiraz (doesn't extend much further than Clonakilla's to be honest), I've found the region produced some beautifully natural wines. The McWilliams' guy supported my belief that although the Barwang range is hugely popular in the eastern states, it barely gets a look in S.A. Savoury, genuine cool climate nose with a great mix of small, evenly ripened berry fruits. Not a shred of over ripeness. Classically elegant, fine and tight, with assertive, grainy tannins dragging out its long finish. Should cellar well at this price. 91

Another Constellation brand which has created recent headlines, and possibly for the wrong reasons, yet still manages to deliver excellent wines. Sweet red/black berry fruits with licorice tones. More medium bodied yet surprisingly elegant Clare shiraz. Good structural lift. 90

Here's a selection of other tasting notes I managed to accumulate throughout the day, sorted by alphabetical order. There are some pretty handy wines in this list. I've kept numbers and details down somewhat, whilst sticking to some of the more important producers present on the day. Please remember once again that these notes were compiled on tastings or samples, and all are shiraz (obviously).

BEST'S BIN NO.1 2006 ($23)
Great to see some good Western Victorian shiraz in attendance. This provided a welcome change towards the end of the day. Tight, restrained redcurrant, dark plum and herbal/spice notes. Powered by fine grained French/cedar oak. Fine and elegant, great drive, precision and spicy finish. Classic regional style. Top value. 92

BOWEN ESTATE 2006 ($26)
Deep nose, lovely small berry fruits with classic cedar/vanilla oak. Sensuous, silky mouthfeel offset by traditionally assertive Coonawarra tannin. Savoury fruit profile blessed with good penetration and length. Marvellous result for the season. Another great Coonawarra shiraz from Bowen Estate. 93

CAPE MENTELLE 2005 ($33)
Elegantly restrained berry fruits; blackberry, blueberry, raspberry and light pepper. Classy palate, chocolate oak and spice. Long, fine finish. Should fill out nicely with a few more years in the bottle. 91

CHAPEL HILL 2007 ($27)
Sweet, over ripe nose. Good concentration and length but the fruit is decidedly overdone. 86

Even though the wine disappointed me somewhat, everything else about the entire Clarendon Hills' operation impressed me. The guys behind their attractive display, especially Alex, were extremely professional yet polite, kind and warm, and clearly the best dressed people in the room. All wine was sufficiently aerated with two decanters constantly on the go with backup bottles cracked and ready for use, and sample sizes were the most generous of the day, even more impressive when you consider the brand's reputation and the wine's price. Very ripe, meaty, dark fruited nose with a soft oak influence. Rather elegant palate by Clarendon Hills' style, more medium in body, with sweet oak smoothing out moderately concentrated, sour edged dark fruit flavours. 90

CORIOLE 2006 ($25)
Vivid colour, evenly matched dark plum, raspberry and exotic spice notes with finely tuned vanilla/chocolate oak. Deliciously long and vibrant, balanced, and with more structure and finesse than most. Long, dusty finish framed by fine grained tannins and clean acidity. 93

From my understanding something of a stop-gap measure until the 2006 Lloyd Reserve arrives. More essence-like with jujube-like fruit profile than the Estate release, but somewhat flatter, without the vibrancy, structure or longevity. 89

Quite a traditional, almost old fashioned red, yet undeniably Dead Arm. A touch closed in aroma at this stage but reveals a savoury, firm and rustic palate. Requires a few more years yet to unravel and show its best. Should be worth the wait. 93

Formerly Green Point, now labelled as Domaine Chandon. Gently spiced, red fruited, quite savoury nose. Elegant, velvety texture carries the wine into a focused finish coated in well defined tannins. 91

HAHNDORF HILL 2005 ($25)
A smallish winery capable of good shiraz and chardonnay. The 2005 Shiraz is no exception, one of the real pleasant surprises of the day. With the Adelaide Hills still gaining in popularity, watch this space! Oh yes, and I loved the humble, down to earth nature of Melissa. More savoury, red fruit nose with tight-knit oak present. Elegant and harmonious, inobtrusive palate. Top Adelaide Hills shiraz. The type of wine you could just drink and drink... 92

HARDYS HRB D637 2006 ($33)
An oddly named wine with an unusual regional make-up (Clare Valley/Adelaide Hills). Red fruits and spice, light-medium bodied, bit thin and dry. Finishes strong with hints of licorice. 88

Obvious viognier influence announces distinct dried apricot aromas over dark currant fruits. A bit sweet and soft, viognier makes its presence felt once more in the warm, somewhat tart finish. 88

I gotta thank the informative, kind rep here (I think his name was Tim?), I was going to bypass this wine and go straight for the Curagee, but thankfully I didn't. Understated nose. Soft, supple and restrained palate. Tightly wound with clean notes of pepper woven throughout dark fruits. Excellent regional style at this price. Surprisingly much better than the Curagee of the same year. 92

The Barossa sourced Hentley Farm wines always seem to do well with the punters at this event. Like the Kaesler Bogan, I'm not sure if it's due to exceptional wine quality or cleverly branded, easy to remember names. Regardless of this, I did enjoy the 2006s and they've certainly carved out a market for themselves. Very rich, currant/fruitcake aromas lead into a surprisingly even, deep, plummy palate with a balanced finish. 93

Fairly oaky nose, richly scented but evenly ripened. Clean, smooth and powerful palate, concentrated to the point of no return. Maybe I had my wires crossed but I found The Beauty more of a beast than the The Beast. Nice wine though. 92

Ripe, stewy fruit fragrance supported by smooth vanilla oak. Distinctive sour edged acidity offsets ultra-ripe red/blackcurrant fruit flavours, delivering pleasing overall balance. Fine and dry finish. 89

I'm a little surprised why Primo chose not to release this in 2005 or 2006, but then made an Angel Gully from the very difficult 2007 vintage. All the same, I'd never question anything the absolutely brilliant Joe Grilli does. Go forth Joe! Deep, floral nose with slightly confectionary red/black fruits and violets. A beautifully smooth and powerfully concentrated palate handles its opulent ripeness well. Just lacks the structure and vitality for a higher score. 93

Restrained nose. Typical red fruit characters overlying pencil shavings-like oak. Smooth, slippery, almost viscous texture. A clean and vibrant, great quaffer. Truly regional, early drinking style, but I did prefer the 2005. 89

Most under-rated, best winery in McLaren Vale? Dark fruited black cherry and plum nose, with savoury cedar/vanilla oak and bitter chocolate undertones. Full and stylish, exudes elegance throughout a velvet texture. Beautifully composed fruit flavours matched by sour edged acidity. Lasting finish. 93

I have that admit that Penfolds' wines have tricked me a bit in past tastings. I really find that the house style isn't done justice by a mere tasting, as I've often considered my initial tasting/sampling notes needed some serious reconsideration after a glass or more had been consumed at a later date. Quite frankly I've found I tend to under-rate them. p.s. the young Penfolds rep was a champ; bubbly, enthusiastic and well versed in Penfolds' wines, a real delight to deal with for a young consumer like myself!

PENFOLDS BIN 28 2006 ($29)
Classic Bin 28 nose with red/dark currant aromas and distinctive American oak. Clean, balanced, vibrantly fruited palate offset by fine tannins. 91

Rich fruitcake nose with violet/licorice undertones. The palate just manages to stay within the confines of good ripeness. Firm tannins and dry finish. 89

PENFOLDS RWT 2006 ($149)
Deep and wonderfully fresh nose. Underlying currant and red fruit nuances lead into a very clean, balanced palate with vibrant flavour. Positively sandy tannins and bright acidity leave a lasting mark right throughout the persistent aftertaste. Another hit for this label. 94

Restrained aroma of plush red and dark fruits. Sweetly fruited palate, but reveals a surprising level of soft vanilla oak. Pleasingly gentle tannins evident. 92

PETALUMA 2006 ($44)
It disappointed me when Petaluma moved their shiraz and viognier over to their more prestigious, yellow labelled products. As I've seen it, neither wine warranted the change. Bizarre nose, an apparent mismatch of elements. Savoury but lacking in great depth. Finish punctuated by steadily emergent, strong and grippy tannins. 87

Still vibrantly youthful. A fine melange of small red/black/blue berry characters. Very well balanced with persistent length and assertive yet sensual tannins. Good cellaring prospect. 93

Deceptively savoury 2006 Barossa shiraz. More light-medium bodied palate accompanied by fine French oak. Tight and precise, slightly spicy/ticklish finish. 91

PLANTAGENET 2005 ($36)
Usually one of my favourite expressions of Western Australian shiraz. I wanted to like this wine more than I did, I really did! Slightly closed, savoury, cool climate nose with some surprising sweet fruit undertones. Smooth and juicy palate but a bit hollow and short. 87

Exceptionally ripe but not quite over-ripe fragrance shows meaty notes of cassis and raspberries. Palate displays classic Blackwell concentration but does reveals hints of cooked fruit in the finish. 88

SAMUEL'S GORGE 2006 ($37)
Another wine I'd made myself well familiar with previous to this tasting. Radiant yet complex fruit profile. Deliciously ripe blackcurrant fruits complemented by vanilla/cedar oak nose. Beautifully correct and elegant palate, extends into a long, bright finish with lashings of silky, sensuous tannins. A standout. 94

SKILLOGALEE 2005 ($26)
Very ripe and plummy with pruney notes overlying sweet, minty oak. Not great, but it wasn't exactly a dream year for Clare Valley shiraz. 86

Thinly veiled fragrance. Bit over ripe and uneven. Punchy acids evident. More of a quaffing/BBQ style. 87

Even though they have a large legion of loyal followers, most of Torbreck's recent efforts with shiraz haven't quite been my style (in contrast to this I love their Pict Mataro and Les Amis Grenache - not cheap though!). I tend to find them a bit too heavy, brooding and concentrated. On the plus side though; by my reckoning their experienced, charming and passionately enthusiastic rep Scott, who I've also seen in the cellar door on several occasions, is one of the best in the business.

Dark fruited, typically ripe nose with an influence of smooth, sweet oak. Full-bodied and smooth, lavish choc/currant flavour profile hits the palate with maker's typical authority. Requires more freshness and vitality at this price, from what wasn't a bad year in the Barossa. 91

Intriguing wine. Youthfully apparent, small red/black berry fruits with the concentration and chalky tannins expected of the Eden Valley, but somehow the fruit/tannin doesn't seem in harmony. Very brightly fruited, almost intensely vibrant palate. On one side simple flavour profile, on the other complex structure. Needs time to settle, still very elemental wine. 92

Very ripe, meaty cherry fruit aromas. Heavily concentrated but surprisingly medium-bodied palate presents a generously ripened, dark fruit profile entwined with seasoned oak. 90

WICKS ESTATE 2007 ($16)
I'm usually a big fan of their sauvignon blanc, and although the reds have yet to truly impress me, I appreciate the generous pricing. Some evidence of region with herbal/spicy aromas. The palate lacks vibrant fruit and balance, finishing green edged and blocky. Perhaps a bit underdone. 85


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Friday, June 26, 2009


For anyone who doesn't know, The Edinburgh Hotel at Mitcham IS Adelaide's best pub.

Located in Adelaide's ultra-chic, beautiful south-eastern foothills, The Ed is home to unquestionably Adelaide's biggest and best beer garden. And I don't mean one of those new-age 'beer gardens' devoid of any grass or anything resembling a garden, The Ed's actually is a garden, beset with plants, trees, grass and gorgeous vines sprawling all over the place. It really represents its place of origin through unbridled environmental qualities, you know exactly where you are , and you know you want to be there.

The food there is outstanding. With a seasonal menu which changes regularly, it's clearly to closest you'll come to a fine dining experience at an Adelaide pub. Kangaroo fillets with maple syrup roasted bacon and fetta/zucchini muffins, beef cheek and shitake pie with porcini glaze, wagyu steak fillet served Australian style, Greek barbecue for two with marinated whole quail, lamb and potatoes; and the classic Ed Mexican style schnitzel are just some of the mouth watering temptations offered by the Ed's magnificent menu. The all day menu is brilliant too, with chorizo skewers and trio of dips both favourites of mine.

The Ed's clientele covers most age groups, from trendy young teens/20-somethings to older, sophisticated attendees who often enjoy bringing their children along for a run around in the garden on a sunday. Generally the customers of the Ed are fairly high brow, but there's nothing wrong with that, everyone's there for a good, relaxing time, and it's better than low brow, isn't it?

What's all this got to do with wine I hear you ask? Well, for the true wine lover the Ed has you covered. Its wine list always has something interesting, from established names like Penfolds and Henschke to more boutique producers like Teusner and Ashton Hills, as well as everything in between. They happily cover all wine styles and price points, with some very generous selections by the glass. The bottles list is exceptional (thanks due to the adjoining bottle shop), covering everything from the latest releases to extensive back vintages, including numerous vintages of Grange and even Chris Ringland's iconic Three Rivers Shiraz.

The adjoining bottle shop, Edinburgh Cellars, is one of Adelaide's top three liquor outlets, providing the engine room for the pub's superb wine list. Completely and proudly independent, its wines are extensive, encompassing many high quality, boutique Australian wines from producers who don't sell through the big stores. Imported wines, top shelf spirits and unique beers from emerging Australian micro breweries are also prevalent at Edinburgh Cellars. They also house their own underground wine cellar, where you can find rare, ultra premium and hard to find wines (the back vintages have a substantial mark up compared to auction houses, but so do all retail stores who stock them).

To top it off the Ed organises Adelaide's biggest and best, annual public wine tasting event; The Edinburgh Great Shiraz Challenge. This year's event takes place this sunday, June the 28th, with the promise of over 300 wines for tasting.

Underneath a great marquee, it attracts the some of the country's best makers of shiraz, encompassing wines common, rare, cheap and expensive, including many icons of Australian wine. All wines on the day are sold at one-off, once a year special prices. If you do like a bottle or two, I'd recommend buying it on the day.

Tasters are encouraged to analyse and even vote on wines at the end of the day. Last year's winner was the 2006 Clarendon Hills Liandra, where one of Roman Bratasiuk's relatives was kept extremely busy pouring and answering questions about his company's prestigious products.

I'd hate to sound judgmental but there are two gripes I have with the Great Shiraz Challenge.

One is temperature. As the event is basically held outdoors under a marquee in the middle of winter, most exhibitors experience significant troubles keeping their wines at a reasonably warm drinking temperature, especially come 2pm (it runs from 11am-4pm). I'd highly recommend arriving early to avoid this issue.

My other concern, and this is common throughout tastings in this state, is how lopsided the wine list is towards South Australian producers. My estimates suggest that of 300+ wines last year about 90% were South Australian shiraz. As a lover of the shiraz of the Yarra Valley, Grampians, Pyrenees, Bendigo, Sunbury, Nagambie Lakes, Heathcote, Great Southern, Hilltops, Canberra, Lower Hunter Valley and numerous other regions, it disappoints me to see how misrepresented non-South Australian districts are. But like i mentioned, this is very common in South Australia, especially when it comes to our beloved shiraz.

Regardless of these minor gripes the bottom line here is that The Edinburgh Hotel at Mitcham is undoubtedly Adelaide's best pub. If you get the chance one afternoon you must visit, you won't regret it!

A report on the Edinburgh Great Shiraz Challenge will be posted early next week.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


 - Coonawarra, SA
 - $28-$41
 - Screwcap
 - 14.5%alc

I've been anticipating the release of Coonawarra's premium 2007 cabernets with great interest. Spring frosts wiped out over half the region's total crop that season, but most winery reports indicate the salvaged fruit was of a high standard. Amazingly, the entire retail allocation of Majella's 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is distributed through a single store.

Settled and moderately deep, its nose contains heavily ripened fruit nuances of currants, blueberries and fruitcake with a minty note of creamy chocolate/vanilla oak. It just lacks the label's typical vibrancy. A bit thin and hollow, its violet infused red/blackcurrant flavours end slightly raw and green, with prickly, angular tannins underlined by herbal tones and vanilla oak.

From a very challenging season Majella has fashioned a cabernet with suggestions of their trademark radiance and character, but without their classic balance and depth. Drink 2011-2014.
88 points

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


 - Lower Hunter Valley, NSW
 - $27-$42
 - Cork
 - 15.0%alc

Famous for its savoury, earthy, leathery and 'sweaty saddle'  like characteristics, Hunter Valley shiraz epitomises the exceptional diversity of Australian wine. Mount Pleasant's individual vineyard Rosehill Shiraz (vines planted 1946) is typically one of the best examples of this unique style.

Deep red/mahogany in colour, it presents a lightly spiced expression of redcurrants, cherry and licorice with restrained notes of polished leather and older oak. Beautifully elegant and smooth, its totally correct, medium-full bodied palate drives in a savoury, essence-like manner. With settled red fruit flavours enhanced by pencil shavings-like oak, it finishes long, fine and dry, as its initially soft and supple tannins build with even intensity well into the aftertaste.

üOutstanding value, the 2004 Rosehill is a truly elegant, pristine example of a medium-term Hunter shiraz. Drink to 2016.
94 points

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


While reading the blog of highly respected English wine scribe Andrew Jefford (lover of all things terroir driven with minimalist intervention - and fair enough), I picked up that a very influential Penfolds' employee would like to see the Rawson's Retreat label abandoned, with their lower-end focus shifting more towards Koonunga Hill. Hurrah!

It's about time Penfolds considered restructuring their overcrowded entry range, where Rawson's Retreat, Koonunga Hill and Thomas Hyland (with 6, 9 and 5 wines in each range respectively and several styles overlapping) are essentially battling it out against each other. Today you could walk into a liquor store and chose from a Penfolds Rawson's Retreat Cabernet Sauvignon, Penfolds Koonunga Hill Cabernet Sauvignon or a Penfolds Thomas Hyland Cabernet Sauvignon for only a few dollars difference. Most wineries have enough concern competing against other wineries, let alone themselves!

In its defense Rawson's Retreat is usually the cheapest of the three, but the price difference is quite minimal, and with inevitable discounting the pricing of these labels tends to move about like three drunk teenagers in the back of a Holden Sandman circa 1975, you never know who's on top or bottom!

Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet and Thomas Hyland Chardonnay are the clear standouts in these ranges. Personally I'd be happy to see Penfolds focus their base range around these two, consistently over achieving wines. Perhaps they should retain the Koonunga Hill label for reds and Thomas Hyland for whites? Thomas Hyland already contains a majority of whites in its range, as Koonunga Hill does for reds.

I'm sure some would say give Thomas Hyland the flick as well, but it would sadden me somewhat to see that chardonnay disappear.

Whatever direction Penfolds heads in, I'm just happy to hear some sensible change might be approaching. Hell, maybe these corporate brands aren't so bad after all?

Monday, June 22, 2009


The final installment of my back reviews is dedicated to the mature, ready to drink wines I've pulled out of my own cellar. There will be no current release wines here.
If you happen to possess any of the wines I review here, this is a good way to check out how they're developing. To be honest though, I'll generally only review wines here which I think are ready to drink.
These wines will be difficult to find at retail stores (and overpriced), but if you're that keen I'm sure your best bet would be sourcing them from a wine auction house such as Langton's or Oddbins.
Reviewed below are Hardys Eileen Hardy Shiraz 1997, Oakridge Chardonnay 2002, Saltram Mamre Brook Shiraz 1998 and Tim Adams Semillon 2002. To my tastes all these wines have hit their peak, but if anyone has a different opinion please let me know. I'll be only too glad to hear your views.

 - Region: McLaren Vale, SA
 - Price: $80-$135
Named in honour of the family matriarch; the Eileen Hardy range encompasses the very best red (shiraz) and white (chardonnay) wines produced by Hardys each year. Without a shred of doubt they are among Australia's finest.
Holding its colour well, the 1997 Shiraz reveals a settled nose of blackcurrants, mushroom, polished leather and bitter dark chocolate with great depth. Penetratingly long and dark, its velvety palate contains an even balance of mature, regional flavours working their way towards a persistent and bright, dusty finish amplified by a lasting note of cigar box.
ü Considering 1997 isn't a recognised vintage for McLaren Vale, this is a surprisingly brilliant, reday to drink Eileen Hardy Shiraz. The quality of the exceptional 2004 (95pts) at a similar maturity could be mind blowing. Drink now.
94 points

 - Region: Yarra Valley, VIC
 - Price: $20-$34
Following a period of ownership under the rather unproductive Evans and Tate group, Oakridge has rebounded to top form with their excellent chardonnays leading the way.
Quite mature by Australian standards, the golden-yellow Oakridge 2002 opens to a toasty bouquet of honeyed citrus fruits, grapefruit and wheatmeal with undertones of sultana and smoky vanilla oak. Developed and savoury but unquestionably vibrant, the complex palate marries creamy texture with idiosyncratic nuances of lemon tart, yeast and grapefruit. It finishes convincingly long with cheesy, briney notes lingering into the aftertaste.
ü Who says wines sealed under screwcap can't develop evenly in a beautiful fashion? Drink now.
92 points

 - Region: Barossa Valley, SA
 - Price: $18-$29
Saltram's Mamre Brook label usually delivers very reliable expressions of the joys of Barossa Valley reds. For their price, they can be exceptional value for the cellar, especially from good years like 1998.
Understated yet complex, the very fresh nose of the 1998 Shiraz reveals characters of porcini mushroom/truffle overlying notes of meaty redcurrants and mint. Smooth, settled and superbly balanced, its palate builds with layers of intensity in an elegant, meaty and savoury fashion. It finishes generously long with vibrancy and lasting impression.
üA truly delicious, mature shiraz, the 1998 Mamre Brook is a standout example of how affordable wines from excellent vintages can grow into exquisite drinks. Drink now.
94 points

 - Region: Clare Valley, SA
 - Price: $19-$27
2002 was named a 'Vintage of the Century year' for Clare by the respected Langton's group. Tim Adams in particular took advantage of the exceptional conditions, delivering some truly memorable shiraz, cabernet, grenache, riesling and semillon that year. Now fully mature, his 2002 is one of the finest Clare Valley semillons I've had.
Vivid gold, with a beautifully developed bouquet of grilled nuts, toasty oak, pungent melons and lime, its aromatic fragrance precedes a driving palate which delves through great length and rare shape. Quite slippery in texture but supported by an oily back palate and dry finish, it penetrates with real authority and brightness, as any indication of 5 months spent in French oak has been well absorbed by varietal citrus/melon fruits and classic bottle aged semillon notes.
üMarvellously long, dry, savoury and complex; Tim Adams' 2002 is a benchmark expression of lightly oaked, Clare Valley semillon. Drink now.
93 points

Sunday, June 21, 2009


In my opinion fortified wine is the most overlooked of Australian wine styles. Many people don't realise that Australian fortifieds stretch way beyond that of the humble cask/bulk ports. Indeed, we are one of the world's greatest producers of the style.
Australia's most expensive wine is a fortified, the Seppelt 100 Year Old Para Liqueur, which doesn't get released until it's 100 years old (the current vintage is 1909) and retails for around $1000.
South Australia's red regions produce some lovely expressions of fortified wines, but any discussion of Australian styles must surely focus on the heartland of Australia's fortified industry, north-eastern Victoria's Rutherglen region.
The traditional wineries of Rutherglen make some wonderfully rich, old liqueur tokays and muscats, to which
there is barely any equal in the world. These wines are also seriously undervalued, with standard releases being available for $15 and reserve releases of very old wines selling for around $40-$70. The leading producers are Morris, Stanton and Killeen, Campbell's, Chambers Rosewood and All Saints. Their wines make unbeatable after dinner drinks.

For my fortified wine reviews I've selected the Chateau Reynella Vintage Port 1998, Morris Liqueur Muscat, Morris Liqueur Tokay and Oliver's Taranga The Banished. All are current releases, however, I'm unsure where you'd get a bottle of The Banished other than direct from the winery, but it's well worth the effort for fortified lovers.

 - Region: McLaren Vale, SA
 - Price: $20-$35
Hardys rate right up there with Australia's leading makers of vintage port. Their Chateau Reynella is a classic interpretation of the Australian style.
Made from a base of McLaren Vale shiraz fruit (from a very handy vintage), its dark, brooding nose reveals a deeply layered fragrance of prunes, plums, violets, dark chocolate and spice. Thick and heavy, with wonderful concentration of its fruit character, obvious shiraz derived flavours of plum and berries are impeccably balanced with absurdly rich chocolate and spice. The finish is slightly sweet, warm and spirity, just as it should be in a 19% alcohol fortified wine.
üRich, smooth, concentrated and jammy, the 1998 Chateau Reynella is an outstanding vintage port guaranteed to improve for decades. Drink to 2028.
94 points

 - Region: Rutherglen, VIC
 - Price: $14-$20
The Non-Vintage Liqueur Muscats and Tokays of Morris are reliably some of the best value fortified wines in Australia.
Medium-brown in colour with amber hues, the muscat reveals a fragrance of fruitcake, raisins and orange peel, overlying a whiff of nutty complexity. Its smooth, luscious palate delivers flavours of raisins and figs, accentuated by notes of dried fruit emanating throughout its finish. Balance is spot on.
üMorris Liqueur Muscat is a particularly impressive fortified, especially given its price. Picking a favourite between this and the tokay is merely a matter of personal preference. For me though, it's the tokay, just. Drink now.
91 points

 - Region: Rutherglen, VIC
 - Price: $14-$20
Morris is currently under the ownership of French company Pernod Ricard through its links to Orlando. I sincerely hope the French take good care of this Australian national treasure.
A lush golden-brown colour, the Non-Vintage Tokay opens to a fragrant nose of toffee, nuts and tea, supported by strong overtones of fruitcake characters. Luxuriantly smooth and sticky, with pleasing balance , its rich palate shows a myriad of bright, ripe tokay flavours, with notes of honeyed sultanas and toffee in the driver's seat. Of particular note is the fine finish, clean and generously long, with just a hint of spirity warmth which doesn't dominate.
üOutstanding value for money and a great introduction into the world of rich fortified wine. Drink now.
92 points

 - Region: McLaren Vale, SA
 - Price: $30
With barely a weak link in their superlative range, Oliver's Taranga is arguably McLaren Vale's in form winery. Their fortified grenache, The Banished, is made from base wines with an average age of 20 years.
Golden/caramel brown in the glass, it slowly unfolds to rich, honeyed aromas of fruitcake, sweet toffee and gentle spice, with a surprising level of restraint and integration. Thick and buttery in texture, the luscious palate displays a gently understated intensity of its mature caramel mudcake, orange peel and tea flavours, with undertones of stonefruit and dried apricot. It finishes long and persistent with a delicious aftertaste of sweet nuttiness and moderate alcoholic warmth.
üA 20 year old fortified which is fresh as a daisy; The Banished is blessed with incredible balance and cleanliness. Fortified fans should un-banish this, now. Drink now.
95 points

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Sweet wines, or dessert wines as they're sometimes known, come in a variety of guises in Australia.
I think you could categorize them into two distinct groups. There are those who produce relatively light, sugary sweet wines at lower price points, such as moscato and late harvest frontignac, and there are those who do it seriously, with the intention of producing exceptional wines.
The best examples of great Australian sweet wines usually come from botrytis influenced semillon grapes, although riesling and sometimes gewurtztraminer are common also.
For those unaware, botrytis is a natural mould which can occur on grapes left hanging on the vine after harvest. Botrytis (or noble rot) kind of raisins the grapes, concentrating their natural sugar levels. The resulting wines are lusciously rich and sweet, but a great irony of sweet wines is they mustn't be too sweet or cloying, as their natural sweetness must be offset by cleansing, refreshing acidity.

For my reviews here I've chosen four current vintage Aussie 'stickies'; Brown Brothers Orange Muscat and Flora 2008, De Bortoli Noble One 2006, Gramps Botrytis Semillon 2006 and the Joseph LaMaglia 2008.

 - Region: Murray Darling, VIC
 - Price: $7-$15
Brown Brothers make this affordably popular sweet wine form a blend of two unlikely grape varieties in orange muscat and flora. As the name suggests, orange muscat is a member of the muscat family, while flora is a hybrid variety created in the 1950s by American scientists who crossed semillon with gewurtztraminer.
Smelling sweet and musky, the 2008 displays a pleasingly gentle, floral nose of rose petals and lychees overlying notes of dried apricot. Unexpectedly well balanced, its delightfully refreshing palate delivers a clean expression of lychee juice and rose oil, before it finishes moderately long with slightly tart, ripe apricot flavours and a lingering sweetness.
üMuch to my pleasant surprise, Brown Brothers' perseverance with the adventurous and experimental has produced one of the most delicious moscato style wines on the market. Cheers to Brown Brothers. Drink to 2011.
88 points

 - Region: Riverina, NSW
 - Price: $26-$41
The only sweet wine included in Langton's Classification of Australian Wine is De Bortoli's highly regarded Noble One. Since its first release in 1982 it's been the measuring stick for all Australian 'stickies'.
Beset with a beautifully composed yet precise measure of botrytis, the 2006 Noble One reveals a perfectly balanced aroma scented with rich marmalade, creme brulee and citrus infused notes of mineral. Incredibly rich yet eloquently sophisticated, the immaculately structured palate builds with citric acids flowing off a delicious core of stonefruit, lime and marmalade flavours. It finishes long and clean with one of the most refreshing cuts of post-botrytis, pink sherbet-like acids you could hope for.
üAfter a couple of vintages which didn't quite live up to expectations, the 2006 Noble One is right back on song. A breathtaking dessert wine; a near ultimate expression of the Australian style. Drink to 2014.
95 points

 - Region: Griffith, NSW
 - Price: $14-$23
After an exceptional 2004 release (94pts), it seems Orlando chose not to release a Gramp's dessert wine from 2005. I do wish more producers would consider not releasing wines in unsuitable vintages. 
In true Gramp's style the 2006 Botrytis Semillon is bright, vibrant and laden with scents of honeyed sultanas and orange peel. Full, smooth and luscious, its rich palate delves with sweet flavours of roasted toffee nuts, honey and nectarine, leaving the mouth refreshed with lingering notes of apricot.
üThe 2006 is another deliciously rich and luscious dessert wine from Orlando's Gramps brand, one of Australia's best labels for botrytis semillon. Drink to 2011.
92 points

 - Region: McLaren Vale/Coonawarra, SA
 - Price: $26-$36
In reading a newsletter from the Italian inspired Primo Estate/Joseph camp, it enthralled me to hear how excited they were of their La Maglia dessert wine being served to the Pope Benedict during his Australian visit. The 2008 wine incorporates a 15% component of raisined gewurtztraminer grapes from Coonawarra.
A genuine influence of botrytis introduces the nose, followed by vivid aromas of white nectarine, orange marmalade and fresh citrus. Its full, rich and concentrated flavours work with great intensity, delivering viscous yet cleanly balanced tones of white stonefruit, melon and sweet lemon butter, with a penetrating finish where its sweetness is wonderfully offset by clean, uplifting acidity.
üUtterly brilliant; is there anything Joe Grilli can't do? Drink to 2015.
94 points


Australian sparkling wines are going through an interesting phase right now. Sure, we can't claim to beat Champagne on a basis of quality but who can. What we do have though is some great value sparklings which come in three different, distinct colours; white, pink and even red.
The boom in Tasmania's wine industry is championed by the undoubted fact it's Australia's number one sparkling region. Its cool climate allows producers to grow fruit which translates into wonderfully fine and tight, fresh sparkling wines with crisp acidity and lively effervescence. 
Australia's maestro of bubbles, Ed Carr, makes the nation's best sparkling wine from 100% Tasmanian fruit; the Bay of Fires Arras.
The Yalumba owned Jansz group produce a pair of excellent, non-vintage Tasmanian sparkling wines for around $20. These reliable wines always provide a delicious entry point into the world of Tasmanian sparklings.
Sparkling reds (probably best made from shiraz) are a uniquely Australian experience.
Seppelt championed the style in generations past with their iconic 'Sparkling Burgundies', which today has spawned a legion of imitators. The Joseph, Rockford Black Shiraz, Leasingham Classic Clare, Barossa Valley Estate E+E and even Seppelt's own Show Sparkling (which has gone into hiatus) are the industry benchmarks.
Producers put a lot of time and care into these national treasures, and at their best, they can be a very special experience.

Reviewed below are the Chandon Vintage Brut 2005, Clover Hill 2004, Jansz NV, Jansz NV Rose, Joseph 2008 disgorgement, Leasingham Classic Clare 1998, Rockford Black Shiraz 2008 disgorgement and the Yarrabank Cuvee 2004. There's always a level of hesitation when reviewing non-vintage wines, but I'm confident the Jansz products provide a consistent drinking experience year in year out. All bottles are current.

 - Region: Southern Victoria/Tasmania
 - Price: $25-$43
Linked through ownership to the famous French Champagne house Moet & Chandon (LVMH), the Yarra Valley's Domaine Chandon produces Australia's best and most diverse range of quality sparkling wines.
With fine mousse and lace, Chandon's 2005 opens to an attractively delicate fragrance of dry crisp bread, white stonefruits and lemon citrus with a mineral edge. Crisp and sharp, it delivers a finely focused, tightly wound expression of its dry, light, lemony pear and apple flavours. The major highlight here is its precise balance, as it finishes extremely clean with good length and lingering notes of refreshing citrus.
üAstoundingly fine and tight; the best Chandon Vintage Brut for some years. Drink to 2013.
94 points

 - Region: Pipers River, TAS
 - Price: $34-$48
Sourced from north-eastern Tasmania's Pipers River region, the Clover Hill is regarded as one of Australia's premier sparkling whites.
Presenting a developed colour beset with excellent bead, the 2004 Clover Hill opens to a quirky nose laced with cheesy, leesy, honeyed notes overlying a whiff of fresh green apples. Full, smooth and creamy, its nutty, waxy palate is not as elegant or refined as usual, and certainly lacks great length and precision.
Evolving at a rapid rate, the 2004 Clover Hill is quite luscious due to its heavily derived winemaker influence, but it's in desperate need of the freshness typical of Tasmania's best. Drink now.
88 points

 - Region: Tasmania
 - Price: $18-$30
In my opinion the very popular Jansz is Australia's best value bubbles bar none. It's just one of those ultra reliable wines where you always know exactly what you're gonna get.
Pale yellow with plentiful bead, a fragrance of grapefruit and fresh green apples with suggestions of yeast greets the nose, displaying the proper signs of quality Tasmanian sparkling. Long, elegant and shapely, its well balanced lemon, nectarine and melon fruits are outlined by tight, zesty effervescence and persisting notes of light brioche and citrus. Delightfully creamy upon entry, it finishes clean, crisp and fresh.
üTypically brilliant. Undoubtedly the best value party starter, aperitif or celebratory drink in Australia. If Morphetville served this...Drink now.
92 points

 - Region: Tasmania
 - Price: $20-$31
Previously I've considered the Jansz NV Rose inferior to the standard, but in 2009 I've witnessed a marked improvement in both, especially the clean, tight and racy rose.
Salmon-pink with extremely attractive mousse, bead and lace, it unfolds to reveal a crisp, bready fragrance of pink cherries and lemon. Wonderfully clean, fresh and foamy, with great line length and precision, the balanced palate sparkles with superb vivacity alongside its deep pinot fruit nuances and an undercarriage of savoury quality. It echoes Tasmanian freshness with every mouthful.
üJust when I thought the standard Jansz couldn't be beaten, Natalie Fryar goes and delivers this. Magnificent. Drink now.
93 points

JOSEPH SPARKLING RED 2008 disgorgement
 - Region: McLaren Vale, SA/Various, AUS
 - Price: $54-$80
A stunningly presented wine in its tall, long glass bottle, Primo Estate's Non-Vintage Joseph Sparkling Red is blended from every shiraz Primo's made since the 1980s,  a selection of Australian base wines purchased at auction dating as far back as the 1960s, a portion of Joseph's iconic Moda Cabernet Merlot, and some Australian fortified wine. All this adds up to one of the most sought after sparkling reds around.
Very mushroomy and truffley on the nose, with deep notes of suede and currant, its lavish, heavy and savoury palate announces great complexity and typical eccentricity. Although it requires a fraction more freshness and vibrancy, it nonetheless delivers a ready to drink combination of mature, savoury flavours with nuances of cherry fruits along a silky texture. The wine exits the mouth with lasting notes of leather.
ü Another delightful Joseph but it just lacks the freshness of its predecessor (2007dis-94pts). Drink to 2011.
92 points

 - Region: Clare Valley, SA
 - Price: $47-$64
Not released until 10 years old, Leasingham's Classic Clare Sparkling Shiraz is a genuine contender for the title of Australia's best vintage dated sparkling red.
Darkly stained in colour with generous mousse, it's extremely complex yet fresh and inviting, as a leathery fragrance reveals lovely aromas of cassis, redcurrants and dark chocolate with a fine underswell of greenish mushrooms. Pleasantly smooth and elegant, with great drive, focus and vibrancy; flavours of forest fruits meshed with savoury, developed tones of suede and truffle finish with appetisingly zippy notes of mineral and cola. Its deliciously creamy mouthfeel is augmented by an impeccable interweaving of primary and secondary characters.
üSuperbly complex, fresh and lively, this is unquestionably one of the best vintage sparkling reds of the modern age. It should be easily accessible with extended cellaring and all the better for it. Fabulously intriguing, grows on you with every sip. Drink to 2018.
95 points

ROCKFORD BLACK SHIRAZ 2008 disgorgement
 - Region: Barossa Valley, SA
 - Price: $55-$120
Rockford's cult sparkling red, the Black Shiraz, is infamous for its scarcity. It almost always sells out to Rockford's loyal mail order customers and barely reaches retail shelves.
Bright red in colour, its violet infused nose is somewhat deficient in intensity and definition, as aromas of red plum and cherry display an unexpectedly fruity fragrance for this label. Elegant, balanced and harmonious, its finely focused palate delivers a restrained yet well composed expression of savoury, small berries, sour edged fruit and earth, however, it is faintly hollow and lacks the depth and complexity of previous releases.
Precisely built with fine line and distinct acids, the 2008 disgorgement of Rockford's eccentric Black Shiraz is neither complex, layered or deep enough to warrant its $80 price tag, but it could surprise with another 5 years in the bottle. Drink 2011-2015.
91 points

 - Region: Yarra Valley/Mornington Peninsula, VIC
 - Price: $31-$44
An Australian sparkling wine specialist, Yarrabank is the combined efforts of French Champagne house Devaux and the Yarra Valley's Yering Station.
Blessed with a genuinely delightful artefact of lees derived complexity, the 2004 Yarrabank reveals a most enticing nose of nougat and almond biscotti beneath its wonderfully foamy head. Smooth, rich, generously long and chewy, its creamy palate presents yet more lees derived flavours before buiding into a rather sharp finish laced with citric acids.
üA luxuriously rich, complex and beautifully structured expression of Victorian sparkling wine, the 2004 Yarrabank comfortably shares elements with vintage French champagne. Mouth-wateringly delicious. Drink to 2011.
93 points