Here's a couple of tasting notes depicting some of the more interesting wines I encountered during a recent weekend stay in the Barossa Valley. I came across plenty of wines still baring the scars of difficult years in the region, but fortunately, the modern Barossa winemaker, whose versatility with grapes other than shiraz and cabernet seems to get better every year, was still able to produce a number of high points. The more observant of you will notice a couple of Burge Family wines on the list I couldn't keep my mitts off...
From left to right: Burge Family Winemakers, Artisans of Barossa and Torbreck
mesh Riesling 2010 ($25) Quite a typical mesh really, which is a bloody good thing if you love dry Australian riesling! The nose shows a pleasing steely tightness with scents of classic white pear, apples and lime. The palate follows on with a beautifully pure expression of its regional flavour, defined by a classically dry, assertive and racy structure that pulls the wine with great length and tightness. 94
Penfolds Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling 2010 ($18) A very interesting wine with near equal parts of Barossa and Eden Valley riesling, as well as a dab of gewurztraminer. The traminer isn't so obvious on the nose, which is tight, steely, slatey and scented with lemon/mineral notes, but on the palate it makes its presence felt through an extending, slightly sweet and juicy taste of lychees, which flows from mid-palate to back, before it's all back-ended by a lingering steely dryness and razor sharp acids. It's beautifully composed and paired magnificently with Kingfish. Chalk another one up for Penfolds' winemaking team! 91
Burge Family Winemakers Olive Hill Semillon 2010 ($22) A brilliant unoaked Barossa semillon, of the more forward, sumptuous and flavoursome style. Its toasty lemon and melon characters are right on the style cue for semillon, as is its beautifully bright, penetrative acidity and length. 92
Burge Family Winemakers Olive Hill Semillon 2011 ($22) Unreleased. A stark contrast to the 2010. Its scent mirrors tropical fruits, with a note of banana in there, whilst its palate is quite juicy, fruit salad-like, round and up front, lacking the extension of the 2010. If it's a semillon that looks like a sauvignon blanc you're after, then this could be the wine for you. It'll be interesting to see how it looks when released. 87
Torbreck Viognier 2010 ($48.50) Perfumed, floral, mineral and savoury, with more melons than stonefruit on the nose. It's pumped by a richly flavoured mid-palate and enlivened by a bright, lingering, mineral finish. It's possibly as good a white wine as I've ever had from Torbreck, but at $48.50, I'm not sure it really compares to the Clonakilla or Virgilius Viogniers, yet. 92
Heggies Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 ($28) Classy, spicy, nutty vanilla oak dominates the nose somewhat, slightly obscuring very lean, clean lemon and white fruit aromas. The palate shows similarly restrained, clean white fruit flavours that become more pungent and melon-like with progression. There's an initial oomph provided by creamy texture and a sparkling structure of citric acids to follow, but it just gets lost along the way somewhere, as it seemingly lacks great length, shape and balance. 89
Gramps Grenache 2009 ($18) Dark fruited with currants, plums and a bit of spicy fruitcake. It seems a little less than ideal at first, but with time it comes together quite nicely, displaying a regional plum and cherry fruit palate that tightens tidily down the line with brisk acids and tannins in a cone-like, prickly 'reverse-fan' finish. There's a pleasing tickle of cinnamon spice too. 89
Torbreck Les Amis Grenache 2009 ($187.50) Its nose is perhaps a bit closed yet deep and even, suggesting a near perfect ripeness of patiently subsiding Barossa grenache beneath. It's equally elegant and deeply, richly fruited, with compacted blue and black berry flavours straddling along medium weight, extravagant layers of silky texture and great length. For a wine that spent 24 months in new French oak, its fruit speaks with incredible clarity and definition, having soaked up the wood with ease. It seems exactly the type of wine that needs a bottle, not a sample, to be truly appreciated, but at that price. . . not for me. Fairly inspiring stuff though. 95
Sons of Eden Kennedy GSM 2009 ($22) Here's a wine that sings the upsides of 2009 Barossa grenache at a very good price. It has an excellent, even, dark/fruity nose that also sprays off the cinnamon and clove notes I adore in beautifully ripened impressions of the style. The palate is just so plush, chocolatey, rich and downright delicious, with a cleansing, refreshing structure that complements the wine without dominating it. Admittedly, it reminded me a bit of Penfolds' fantastic 2009 Bin 138, which isn't a bad thing in my eyes. A great, moreish drinking wine. 92
Burge Family Winemakers Olive Hill SGM 2008 ($28) Very rich and smoothly fruited with the ultra-ripeness expected of the vintage, but it's not as savoury or complex as the best years. It drinks very well, in a big, mouthfilling fashion with good, clean structure, but there is a hint of alcohol/menthol evident in the aftertaste (15.5%). I just expected a touch more from one of my favourite Barossa blend labels. Still pretty good value though. 90
Burge Family Winemakers Olive Hill MGS 2008 ($25) With mourvedre in the driver's seat, this instantly smells more even and interesting than the previous wine. It's heady and floral, with deep, dark, rich chocolatey fruits residing beneath. The palate drinks an absolute treat, revealing a wonderfully generous persistence of classically Barossan bright and silky dark fruits from start to finish. Top value and interest here. 92
Torbreck The Pict Mataro 2007 ($187.50) Small red berry fruits with earthy, muddy tones and mocha oak woven throughout. It's medium-full and muscular in body, and flush with explosive berry flavours and leathery tones. There's quite a classy, rustic finish, but overall it just lacks the wow factor essential for a wine of its price. 93
BVE Ebenezer Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($35) A very well pitched, regional and somewhat savoury Barossa cabernet devoid of the variety's greener aspects. It's powered by dry cedar tones, complementing its dark plum and earth characters well. It has a juicy and generously flavoured palate, with a good backbone of dry and dusty structure. At $10 less (retail) it would be brilliant. 91
Burge Family Winemakers Draycott Shiraz 2008 ($32) Takes a while to open up what is essentially a fairly muted nose by the label's standards, but when it does it reveals sweetly fruited plums, cherries and raspberries with controlled oak and nothing over-ripe or dead. Its palate is smooth but it just needs more freshness, vitality and flesh. It should be a better drink with time. 88
BVE E+E Black Pepper Shiraz 2006 ($90) Unusually fruity, sweet and compote-like for what was a pretty good year for Barossa shiraz. It's very condensed on the palate, to the point of almost being flattened, whereby it needs more vitality, structure, fruit brightness and complexity. Disappointing to say the least - perhaps a poorly presented bottle? 88
John Duval Eligo Shiraz 2008 ($100) From one of Australia's true winemaking legends, comes this wine which highlights the man's ability to craft top wine in a difficult vintage. It has plenty of 08 character, but it presents it to near perfection. It's very controlled and astoundingly deep, with almost elegant scents of plums, berries and cherries earmarking beautiful regional character alongside a smooth note of rich vanilla/chocolate oak. Its palate is ripe in a deliciously Barossan style, with a wonderful caress of silky tannins, but the real highlight is its length of powerful fruit, which just goes on and on with sumptuous impact. 94
Torbreck RunRig Shiraz Viognier 2007 ($225) A rather typical yet practically ideal expression of the ultra-ripe, rich, in-your-face modern Torbreck style. It's meaty, spicy, raisiny and dark fruited, extravagantly concentrated, dense, smooth, rich and sumptuous, with assertive, grainy tannins pulling out a long, tight finish that plays its part well, balancing the whole package effectively. Elegant it isn't, but it's great if over-the-top Australian reds are your thing. Harnessing ripeness and structure, it's really well pulled off for the 07 vintage. 94
Torbreck The Laird Shiraz 2006 ($700) I'll admit I didn't approach this, now Australia's most expensive dry wine, with a lot of enthusiasm, but when I heard its fruit was pulled from the same vineyard that ran into the infamous Three Rivers Shiraz, at the cost of a whopping $25,000/ton to Torbreck, things starting making a little more sense. . . and then I drunk it and it all came together beautifully. It displays an incredibly bright, vivid fruit expression, covering a variety of colours, and it actually smells, tastes and feels like a very un-Torbreck-like wine in my opinion, as the dark, ultra-ripe, meaty and currant-like characters I encountered in Torbreck's other top shirazes that day weren't present (admittedly this was the only 2006 in the line up, but I find those characters in most of Torbreck's top shirazes, almost irrespective of season). Its palate was surprisingly elegant in a rich, velvety Barossa style, controlled in both weight and particularly structure, as it took a long time to unfold and grow with great patience and restraint into the mouth, with powdery, dry tannins revealing an extra degree of character every step of the way. Best of all, it's neither Grange-like nor Hill of Grace-like, so it makes a welcomed addition to the top-tier of Australia's wine family tree. Definitely worth a look if you're contemplating what to do with the left over money after you sell your Lamborghini for a Maserati. 96
Spinifex D.R.S. Vineyard Durif 2009 ($48) It wasn't that long ago I was deeply pondering why there isn't more durif in the Barossa, and this wine, made from vines planted as early as 2002, only raises the question even more. It's surprisingly elegant, silky, medium in weight and savoury-edged, contrasting the Rutherglen style yet nailing the Spinifex style, and it's easily the pick of their current releases for me. It possesses bright plums and red berries, with a beautifully fine-grained finish highlighted by its precision, freshness, vitality and length. It's a bit of a surprise stylistically, but it provided great drinking enjoyment nonetheless. More please! 94
BVE E+E Black Pepper Sparkling Shiraz 2005 ($50) Currants, meats and juicy red plum fruits, expressed in the buoyantly ripened, fruity style typical of its vintage, with rather generous, if straight forward flavours on the palate. Unfortunately, it seems a bit simple and syrupy, and really, it appears more of a 'friendly consumer style' sold at the wrong price right now. 89
The new cellar door on everyone's lips in the Barossa at the moment is Artisans of Barossa, who have taken the extra step of naming their spittoons after popular Australian wine personalities.
Artisans is the shared accommodation of 7 boutique Barossa wineries; Hobbs, John Duval, Massena, Schwarz Wine Company, Sons of Eden, Spinifex and Teusner. The wines available for tasting work on a rotating schedule, with each producer typically offering 2 of their wines in addition to a chosen, 'featured' brand offering more (I was fortunate to be there on a Spinifex day!). Samples are arranged and presented in pairs, in an interesting, comparative format, where similar wine styles from different producers are pitted next to each other. For example, we tasted Hobbs' 2009 'With Freckles' Viognier next to Massena's 2010 'The Surly Muse' Viognier, then John Duval's 2008 Plexus SGM with Sons of Eden's 2009 Kennedy GSM and so on. Of course, this option can be passed if you wish, but I was happy to take part.
Personally I'd love to see an 'Artisans of [insert region here]', housing small winemakers without cellar doors, open up in every major Australian wine region. And the little regions too of course... :) . It's a great concept, bringing some of Australia's most interesting modern wines within closer reach of the everyday consumer.