Sunday, October 2, 2011


Much like regional neighbours Ashton Hills, Nepenthe seems to have undergone some notable changes since my last visit. But unlike Ashton Hills, notable change seems to be part of the scenery at Nepenthe.

Nepenthe's wine quality continues to remain steady in a middle of the road kind of way, but outside of that, things tend to shift around fairly quickly for this assertively marketed brand. They're certainly unlikely to die standing still.

The last five years have seen a change of ownership, change of head winemaker and a handsomely redeveloped cellar door, but today I'm going to concentrate more on what's going on with the wines. So here's a look at what might've gone through the heads of the people at Nepenthe recently.

- Let's get serious with sauvignon blanc
Although I don't have the official figures, I assume the carload after busload after carload of trendy, sharply dressed Gen-Xers who rock up to Nepenthe's cellar door on sunny days has something to do with their sauvignon blanc. Fortunately for more discerning drinkers, Nepenthe's recently adopted a more grown up approach to tackling the variety. 2009 marked the arrival of Nepenthe's 'Petraea' Sauvignon Blanc, a wood aged rendition of the variety (5 months in 2500L barrels for the 2010) which goes to show Nepenthe does have a vested interest in pleasing the more serious consumer. Going off the current release, I believe Nepenthe has a bit more work to do to perfect the style (like many from the Hills in my opinion), but their extra effort to produce a top class wine is highly commendable. $28 isn't too bad either.

- Let's get serious with pinot gris
From 2012 onwards I'm told Nepenthe will be getting 'serious' with pinot gris. Whether or not that means an addition to their reserve 'Pinnacle' range or sprucing up their standard gris I'm not sure, but there will be a change towards a a more worked style. I was recently informed pinot gris/grigio now outsells riesling in Australia, which might validate the move in some respects, as well as compensate for those estate chardonnay vines I saw grafted over to pinot gris (chardonnay has clearly been Nepenthe's best performer over the last 5 years in my opinion). Let's hope the 2012 vintage plays into their hands.

- Let's do something about our reds
Although Nepenthe has traditionally been associated with one of the the more unusual red wine portfolios in the Adelaide Hills, the company now seems to be moving in a slightly more orthodox direction, with some of the red focus shifting from those erratic cabernet styles to the more regionally accepted shiraz. The 'Gate Block' Shiraz now signifies Nepenthe's efforts to create a high quality, regional take on the variety. Nepenthe's tempranillo actually looked quite smart on my visit, but I wonder how long the winery will persist with their much maligned Adelaide Hills zinfandel.

- Let's take a look at the results
Despite the noted transitions surrounding Nepenthe's savvy, gris and fuller reds, it was two of the brand's mainstays; the Ithaca Chardonnay and Good Doctor Pinot Noir, which recently impressed a few of our country's show judges. The 2010 Ithaca having picked up the 'Best White Wine' Trophy at the 2011 Riverina Wine Show and the 2010 Good Doctor winning judge's choice for 'Best Pinot Noir' at the 2011 South Australian Wine of the Year awards. The 2010 Ithaca looks a cleverly made (in both vineyard and winery), very classy wine for its modest price, and although the 2010 Good Doctor was unavailable for tasting, it was available for purchase and I picked up a bottle for full review soon.

Nepenthe tasting notes posted below

Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($19) A very clean and smart looking, typically regional savvy, with good fragrance, brightness and persistence to its ably textured herbal/gooseberry characters. Nepenthe believe the 2011 is one of the best sauvignon blancs they've made in the last 10 years and I'd have to agree. A proud cafe/pub/sitting and sipping-on-Nepenthe's-lawn wine if ever there was one. 90

Nepenthe Petraea Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($28) I was expecting a big jump from the standard wine but it just never really happened. The relatively passive oak and extra bottle age seems to have dumbed down its fruit without really contributing much in the way of complexity. There's some mineral/banana custard notes and a fair push of smooth texture, but it just lacks the vibrancy, shape and structure I ultimately seek. Still, not bad though, and I'll be keeping my eye on it in the future, particularly given the fine 'standard' wine from 2011. 90

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2010 ($19) Slightly dull, predictable nose reflecting fairly simple, bland white pears. Clean, straight forward palate would make for fair summertime quaffing if not much else. 86

Nepenthe Chardonnay 2010 ($19) 93% unwooded. Once again bit bland, uninspiring, with not a hell of a lot to pick in the way of fruit or winemaking tricks. It is however, cleaner and fresher than the gris, with a finish that spritzes up at the end. 87

Nepenthe Ithaca Chardonnay 2010 ($25) Outstanding value for a 'reserve' Adelaide Hills chardonnay from a reputed name. It has a very clever, fresh and complex nose with some savoury complexity - touches of mineral, yellow nectarine, flint and matchstick with a buttered popcorn-like oak component, but it's all very refined and in line. The palate begins clean, fresh and tight, before developing flavour and pungency towards the finish. Bright acids. Clean wine. Good stuff. 92

Nepenthe Pinot Noir 2010 ($19) Medicinal, sweet red cherry and herb nose, bit off putting really. I hope it's an aeration issue. The palate's a bit sweet 'n' sour, thin and conclusively lacks stuffing, subsequently revealing an unfortunate edginess. Disappointing. 84

Nepenthe The Good Doctor Pinot Noir 2009 ($38) Immediately more satisfying and varietal than the base range wine, with a nose of dusty, meaty cherry kernels, and although its palate enters with a pleasing silkiness, it quickly drops away towards the finish and that's what's left lingering in my mind. 88

Nepenthe Tempranillo 2008 ($25) A real surprise, particularly fragrantly, with its smooth, musky, mushroomy aromas of varnishy red cherries and well handled oak depicting something of the old world in a convincing manner. The vibrant and well constructed palate's bright and smooth to begin but ends with prickly spices and lithe structure. Good wine. 90

Nepenthe The Sirens Zinfandel 2007 ($35) Thin, green, very herbal nose with some cherry elements. Soupy palate, lacks stuffing and vitality, ends awkward and disjointed. Hard to see what's going on here, especially for $35. 84

Nepenthe Gate Block Shiraz 2008 ($38) Almost anything would look good after that zinfandel, and indeed, the 2008 Gate Block might've benefited. It has a bit of a multi-faceted, ripe Adelaide Hills shiraz nose, with meats, menthol/varnish, red and black plums and blueberries. Although smooth to start, with a creamy oak driven texture, the palate looks a bit baked around the edges and could do with more fruit brightness. 89

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