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One month Down Under, part II


by Phil Shorten

Adelaide Hills

From the Clare Valley, a brief return visit back to the Adelaide Hills, which provided the opportunity to drop into Ashton Hills.

Ashton Hills
Ashton Hills is one of the longest standing Adelaide Hills wineries. The winemaker and proprietor, Stephen George, also makes wines for Wendouree and produces an eclectic range under the Galah label.

2003 Salmon Brut
A sparkling wine made from Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir fruit. Pale strawberry pink. Full, soft mousse and fine persistent bubbles. Clean fruit forward nose of fresh strawberries and cherries. Savoury and refreshing palate of strawberries and cherries with just a touch of yeast. Good fruit depth suggests that the wine should develop well, at least over the short to medium term. Refreshing. EXCELLENT

2004 Galah Adelaide Hills Riesling
Clean fresh and aromatic nose - crisp apples, floral notes. Refreshing, light and delicate palate - clean appley fruit. Finely balanced acidity. GOOD

2004 Ashton Hills Riesling
Like the Galah Riesling, fresh aromatic and delicate. Clean palate of zest grapefruit and fresh herbs. While delicate and restrained there's plenty of power in this wine ensuring that it will age well. VERY GOOD

2002 Ashton Hills Chardonnay
Pale lemon yellow. Spicy oak dominates the nose. Good depth of fruit (peach, pear, apricot) on the palate, albeit somewhat dominated by spicy oak at this point. Refreshing fine acidity. The oak and fruit may well integrate with more time in the bottle. GOOD

2002 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir
Medium ruby red. Meaty, smoky and quite funky nose. Sweet raspberries and damson fruit. More interesting on the nose than the palate. Decent earlier drinking style. GOOD

2003 Piccadilly Valley Pinot Noir
Pale-medium ruby red. Youthful, slightly funky nose. Pleasant strawberry fruit, but lacking the punch that would take it to a higher level. GOOD

2000 “Five”
A blend of the traditional Bordeaux red varieties that formerly went under the Obliqua label. Medium crimson in colour. Youthful nose of blackcurrant, mint and pencil shavings. Dry, smooth, slightly austere (but not unpleasant) palate of blackcurrant and cedary oak. A tad lean, but the wine would stand up well to food. VERY GOOD

1999 Lone Star Burra Burra Shiraz
From vineyards in a new GI near Burra in South Australia's mid-north. Deep ruby red. Ripe sweet raspberry and plum fruit with a touch of vanilla. Finishes dry with dusty tannins. Quite restrained. GOOD

2003 Galah Fleurieu Peninsula Cabernet Sauvignon
Youthful nose of red berries, mint and eucalypt. Very ripe (but well judged) concentrated sweetly fruited palate. Intense red berry fruit married with savoury oak. Firm tannins on the finish. VERY GOOD

There are no poor and few average wines in the Ashton Hills portfolio. On this occasion, the 2003 Ashton Hills Salmon Brut stood out head and shoulders over the other wines - a very distinctive wine and a genuine pleasure to drink.

Time to leave Adelaide and head down south to Coonawarra, not the boring “across the top” way though. We went the interesting way via Langhorne Creek and the Coorong, which provided the opportunity to stop at another winery along the way.

Langhorne Creek

Bremerton
Bremerton has been around for 20 odd years. However, winemaking and marketing responsibilities are now in the hands of two sisters who are undoubtedly committed to the cause.

2001 Wiggy Sparkling Chardonnay
Good mousse when poured. Fine reasonably persistent bubbles. Clean, youthful nose of green apple and lemon citrus. Fuller bodied, fruit forward style, palate much the same as the nose. GOOD

2004 Sauvignon Blanc
Archetypal Sauvignon Blanc nose of cut grass and green herbs. Fresh light zesty palate. Clean and uncomplicated. GOOD

2004 Verdelho
Crystal clear, almost water white. Youthful fresh spicy palate intermingled with citrus fruit. Lacks intensity. AVERAGE

2004 Racy Rosé
Strawberry pink. Fresh nose of sweet cherry flowers. Ripe strawberries and watermelon on the palate. Quite full with a lick of tannin. There's a quite a lot of residual sugar in this wine, too much for my palate. Could perhaps work with spicy Indian cuisine. AVERAGE

2001 Tamblyn
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot. Lifted Cabernet Sauvignon aromatics on the nose. Round, soft and supple, ripe berry fruit, integrated oak. Easy drinking uncomplicated bistro style. GOOD

2001 Selkirk Shiraz
Medium-deep ruby red. Nose is initially dominated by sweet vanilla oak overlaying ripe berries. Ripe plum, mulberry and boysenberry. Rich and round with soft fine grained tannins. GOOD

2001 Old Adam Shiraz
Medium-deep ruby red. Smoky (slightly closed) nose, pencil shaving oak, vanilla and cloves. Ripe dark berries. 22 months in new American oak and the wine is showing it at this stage. It may merit improvement as the wine matures but at present the oak is definitely in the driver's seat. GOOD

2000 Walters Cabernet Sauvignon
Mid-ruby red. Rich, blackberry/blackcurrant fruit, assertive grippy tannins, razor sharp acidity on the finish leaves the wine unbalanced. Tough work. AVERAGE

NV Ciel
Something different, a fortified Chenin Blanc made from botrytis affected fruit. Bright golden yellow. Beeswax and honey on the nose. Very sweet, slightly one dimensional palate (nougat and little else). Rich and unctuous. The spirit is well integrated. GOOD

Bremerton is clearly enthusiastic and keen, but I can't admit to being taken by any of the wines. I think the red wines could have benefited from a bit more restraint in the oak department.

En route to Coonawarra with enough time to call in at Lacepede Seafoods in Kingston SE (after taking a mandatory photograph of the big lobster) to grab a whole cooked Southern Rock Lobster to enjoy later that evening.

Coonawarra

Coonawarra is perhaps Australia's most demonstrable example of terrior. Some of Australia's best Cabernet Sauvignon is fashioned from this 12km x 2km cigar shaped terra rossa strip. However, the region suffers from its remoteness, meaning that mechanical pruning and harvesting is often used in favour of pruning and picking by hand. I have little doubt that this has an impact on the final product. The best 2001 Coonawarra Cabernet (or blend) I tasted on the trip was the 2001 Petaluma Coonawarra made from hand picked fruit grown on hand pruned vines. The Zema Estate wines, although slightly rustic are further proof that hands on treatment in the vineyard is reflected in the final product.

Coonawarra has undergone a lot of change since my last visit. Modern cellar doors have been built and there is now an impressive restaurant at Hollick Winery filling a much needed gap in the market. Coonawarra now offers a rewarding experience for the wine tourist, seemingly reflected in the steady flow of visitors at cellar doors.

Balnaves
Balnaves has grown in stature over the past 5 or so years and is now considered one of the finest producers in Coonawarra. This rise in stature coincided with the appointment of Peter Bissell (ex-Wynns) as winemaker. Peter is winemaker for a number of other wineries in Coonawarra including Punter's Road and Parker.

Unfortunately, the highly rated super-premium 100% Cabernet Sauvignon “The Tally” was not on tasting.

2001 Chardonnay
Greenish yellow. Spicy oak driven nose, with lime and stonefruit in the background. Forward oak on the palate overlaying lemon/lime citrus and guava. Fine acidity. Needs food that will balance the prominent oak. GOOD

2004 Cheeky Red
A light fresh red wine made to be slightly chilled. Mid-cherry red. Simple macerated cherries and a lick of tannin. Soft fuller style. Good drinking for meaty summer dishes. GOOD

2001 The Blend
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (56%), Merlot (41%), Cabernet Franc (2.5%) and Petit Verdot (0.5%). In keeping with general Coonawarra practice, the Bordeaux blend is designed as an earlier drinking style. Ripe cassis and damsons on the nose, reflected on the soft supple palate together with liquorice and smoky oak. Nicely integrated wine that is drinking well now and should do so for 2-3 years. Well priced at AUD19. VERY GOOD.

2001 Cabernet Merlot
Deep plum red. Ripe cassis, plum and chocolate. Rounded, supple and elegant blackcurrant/blackberry and plum, very slightly jammy. Firm fined grained tannins and balanced acidity. Reasonable value at AUD24. VERY GOOD

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon
Very deep crimson, almost opaque. Sweet ripe blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, spicy/charry oak. Concentrated dark berry fruit on the palate, bitumen and tar. Ultra fine grained tannins and plenty of refreshing tannins. In Coonawarra terms, this wine is very ripe, concentrated and full of extract, what I would call modern style Coonawarra. VERY GOOD

Balnaves is producing wines of a consistently high quality. For mine, the wines have shifted up a notch or two in ripeness in recent years and show greater concentration, extraction and new oak polish than I recall.

Majella
The brothers Lynn are long-time Coonawarra vignerons who started to produce their own wines a bit over a decade ago and hit the spot pretty much immediately. The red wines are marked by good fruit and are generously oaked, although the fruit can certainly stand the oak. Majella's top win, The Malleea is a Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz blend, an Australian style that works rather well. There can be no doubting of Majella's standing given the flurry of activity at the cellar door and the number of orders being made.

2004 Majella Riesling
The only white wine in the Majella portfolio. Almost water white with green tinges. Crisp green apples and lemon citrus on both the nose and the palate. Crisp and light with a pleasant tart finish. Quite nervy. GOOD

2002 Shiraz
Fruit forward nose - fruit pastilles, blackberries and menthol. Mulberry and blackberry fruit lifted by sweet oak. Easy soft early drinking wine. GOOD

2001 Shiraz
Deep ruby verging to crimson. Mulberries and spicy oak (cloves and cinnamon). Good fruit concentration and oak integration. Well structured and balanced. Significantly better than the 2002 Shiraz, reflecting vintage conditions. EXCELLENT

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
Deep magenta in colour. Quite a herbaceous nose of capsicum, menthol and dark fruits. On the palate, medium bodied, decent fruit intensity (blackberries and blackcurrants). Herbaceous edge. Structured fine grained tannins. A pretty good result for the vintage but obviously a cooler vintage wine. VERY GOOD

2001 The Malleea
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55%) and Shiraz (44%). Deep magenta. Powerful aroma of dark berry fruit and peppery spice. Rich, intense and powerful, concentrated blackberry, dark plum, blackcurrant fruit with well judged positive oak. Fine tannins. A structured wine that's built to last. At AUD66 it's very much in the super-premium category. EXCELLENT

A good offering from Majella with the 2001 Shiraz the wine of the tasting on a price-per-value basis. The 2002 wines have a herbaceous edge that seems to be typical of the vintage, hence 2002 is not a “buy” year for me.

Hollick
Hollick offers a large range of wines for tasting in its new cellar door located at the entrance of Coonawarra's flagship restaurant, Upstairs at Hollick.

1990 Hollick Pinot Noir Chardonnay
Medium lemon yellow with distinct golden tinges. Fine bubbles. Touch of toast and yeast on the nose together with mature Chardonnay fruit (honey, baked apple, spice). Fully developed fruit on the palate, slightly toasty and honeyed. Lacks the elegance of Champagne, but a quite a successful wine. VERY GOOD

2004 Riesling
Very pale lemon yellow. Lemon and lime citrus with floral notes. Touch of residual sugar on the palate. Lemon, lime and Granny Smith apples. Decent finish. GOOD

2004 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon
Pale lemon yellow. Lemon and lime citrus with herbaceous notes on the nose, capsicum and gunsmoke. Dry, crisp and taut, lemon/lime citrus, capsicum. Racy acidity. Good finish. GOOD

2001 Chardonnay
Golden yellow. Developed aromas of toasted seeds, barley sugar, honey and sourdough. Dry, medium bodied, integrated oak, fully mature palate of cashew and grilled nuts. Drink up. GOOD

2002 Varietal Trial Petit Verdot
Bright cherry red. Maraschino cherry and marzipan with a hint of chocolate. Very dry, with lots of acidity and a vein of sweet cherry fruit. On its own it shows quite lean, but would be softened by appropriate food. As varietal Petit Verdot goes I prefer the more generous and rich Pirramimma Petit Verdot from McLaren Vale. GOOD

2003 Hollaia Sangiovese Cabernet
Named in reference to the super-Tuscan Sangiovese Cabernet blends. Slightly gamy nose also showing ripe berries and liquorice. Medium bodied, moderate intensity, fruit characters are as per the bouquet, dry finish. Like the Petit Verdot, the wine is a touch lean and ungiving. GOOD

2002 Shiraz Cabernet
A 75:25 blend, successful at the recent Limestone Coast Wine Show. Deep crimson. Smoky blackcurrant fruit on the nose, with leafy hints. Good fruit intensity in the palate - blackberries, plums and redcurrants. Grippy tannins and fine acidity provide structure. Quite austere, needing either food or 2-3 years to soften out a little. VERY GOOD

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
An 85:15 blend. Medium to deep ruby. Distinctly herbaceous nose, also showing capsicum and spearmint. Medium bodied, dry blackberry and blackcurrant on the palate, herbaceous notes. Well balanced. GOOD

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
Deep magenta. Blackberry, blueberry and mint on the nose. Well delineated Cabernet fruit, lifted mint, fine powdery tannins, zippy acidity on the finish. GOOD

2002 Wilgha Shiraz
Matured in French and American oak. Medium-deep ruby. Coconut oak, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and berry fruit on the nose. Forward ripe style with red berry fruit, clove and vanilla. Round supple tannins. For mine, the sweet American oak is just a bit too pronounced. Questionable value at AUD37.50. GOOD

2003 Sparkling Merlot Mid-ruby red. Fine mousse (disappears rather rapidly) with relatively small steadily rising bubbles. Violets, blackberries and eucalyptus leaf on the nose. Quit herbaceous and lean, far more austere than most Australian sparkling reds. GOOD

The Hollick house style seemingly favours leanness and austerity in favour of overtly fruity wines (although the large number of 2002 vintage wines may have distorted one's view), which goes against the mode of pushing ripeness to the limit. While this is no bad thing, O would personally like to see greater fruit intensity and power. For mine, there are no stand-out wines, although most of the red wines will undoubtedly improve over the short to medium term and work well with food.

Zema Estate
Zema Estate is a family owned winery with a strong Italian flavour. It is one of the wineries in Coonawarra to tend its vines by hand, and it shows. I found vibrant ripe fruit that was absent in some other wines that were tasted. All of the wines are very reasonably priced.

2004 Sauvignon Blanc
Very pale silvery lemon. Typical Sauvignon Blanc characters - capsicum, lime, cut grass and passionfruit. Clean, pure and fresh. VERY GOOD

2001 Merlot
Deep plum red. Menthol and eucalypt on the nose together with briar and mulberry. Supple palate, ripe plum and mulberry, well judged oak. Nice easy drinking style. Very approachable. Well balanced. No jagged acidity that characterised some other wines tasted on the trip. VERY GOOD

2001 Shiraz
Deep ruby red. Touch of coconut and dill on the nose from maturation in American oak. Dry and restrained, medium bodied, dark berry fruit, structured tannins. Quite tight at the moment, this wine needs 2-3 years to soften and open up. Upside potential. VERY GOOD

2001 Cluny
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Deep crimson. Youthful nose of capsicum, tomato leaf and blackcurrants. Dry, medium bodied, good fruit intensity, blackcurrant/blackberry, creamy oak. VERY GOOD

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon
Deep crimson verging towards black. Dry, fully flavoured, excellent fruit intensity, powerful liquorice, tar, dark berry fruit, smoky oak, mouthpuckering tannins. Classic Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. EXCELLENT

2001 Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon
More sweetly fruited, plummy and intense than the standard Cabernet Sauvignon. Well handled and does not fall into the over-oaking trap of some super-cuvees. EXCELLENT

With Zema Estate, you get what you see. It's not as flash an operation as some of the other wineries in Coonawarra, but all of the wines are well balanced and are fashioned with good ripe fruit. The house style may tend toward rusticity, but all of the wines are very drinkable and will age well.

Brands of Coonawarra
Brands is the Coonawarra outpost of Hunter Valley based McWilliams.

2001 Riesling
Pale lemon yellow with silvery hints. Floral nose, also showing greengages, lime and quince. Dry, light to medium bodied, clean and fresh, crab apples and touches of lime. GOOD

2003 Chardonnay
Clear bright lemon yellow with gold tinges. Youthful oaky nose of vanilla, toast and spice as well as peach and cumquat. Sweet fruited, citrus and pineapple with integrated toasty oak. Not over the top. VERY GOOD

2001 Special Release Merlot
Medium ruby red. Spicy fruitcake aromas. Supple and soft, ripe plum pudding characters. Quite elegant. Slightly expensive at AU30.50. GOOD

2001 Shiraz
Mid-ruby/crimson. A lighter style - dry and reserved. Lacking fruit. Raw and dry. Perhaps all of the best fruit ended up in the reserve wine? AVERAGE

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium ruby red. Herbaceous nose. Dry, lean and hollow with awkward acidity. POOR

While the people working at cellar door at Brands are very nice, the wines, most particularly the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, do little to show the winery particularly well. Both were hollow and lacking fruit. None of the reserve wines were on tasting, but I would suspect (hope) that there would be a significant leap in quality from the standard bottlings.

Punter's Corner
Punter's Corner is a relatively new concern. It achieved early success, winning the Jimmy Watson Trophy for its Spartacus Reserve Shiraz. The wines are made by Peter Bissell of Balnaves. Russian oak is employed in tandem with French oak in maturing a number of the red wines.

2003 Single Vineyard Chardonnay
Bright lemon yellow. Spicy oak on the nose together with honey and caramel. Medium bodied, forward spicy oak (nutmeg, cinnamon), cashew and stonefruits. Reasonable length. A well made wine, although the oak is too forward for my personal taste. GOOD

1999 Coonawarra Shiraz
Medium ruby red. Very gamy nose, straight from the compost heap. It smells like a mature red Burgundy. On the palate, spicy, leathery and gamy. Not totally unpleasant but surprisingly evolved for a relatively young wine. An off bottle? AVERAGE

2001 Coonawarra Shiraz
Ruby red verging towards crimson. Lifted aromatic nose of violets and cherries. Cherries, raspberries and pepper with hints of leather. Well constructed and well balanced wine. VERY GOOD

2001 Triple Crown
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Menthol, liquorice and eucalyptus leaf on the nose. Dry, lean and tautly structured. GOOD

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon
Merlot (9%) is blended into the wine. Medium ruby red. Tar, leather, figs and plums on the nose. Rich and thick with plum pudding and spice on the palate. Not traditionally style Coonawarra Cabernet - too rich and ripe. May work for those who like the style. GOOD

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon
Deep crimson. Ripe dark berry fruit, woodsmoke and tobacco leaf. Deep seated savoury fruit - blackberry/plum - thick fine tannins. Quite polished and slightly high toned, but far more classically styled than the 1999 vintage. Has the structure to age well. Good value at AUD27.50. EXCELLENT

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium crimson fading to ruby at the rim. Herbaceous notes on the nose, reflecting the 2002 vintage, also olives, capsicum and black fruits. Dry, good fruit intensity, palate much as the nose, slightly leafy but not in an unpleasant way. VERY GOOD

2002 Spartacus Reserve Shiraz
Spicy and quite gamy, with mocha and mint. Full bodied, rich and powerful, ripe plum/mulberry fruit, integrated oak and powdery tannins. Well balanced acidity. A rich plump show stopping style. VERY GOOD

The style of Punter's Corners wines seems to have varied over time. I am not sure if there has been a change in winemaker but certainly the style seems to have changed somewhat. At their best, the wines of very good, the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon being the stand out for me.

There ends the stay in Coonawarra. On the whole, it was a slightly mixed experience; some very decent wines, the odd hollow wine sadly lacking fruit. For mine, the 2001 vintage is significantly better than 2002 and I personally won't be buying any wines from the 2002 vintage. There is no doubt that there is an affinity between Coonawarra's terra rossa soil and the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. However, I think that too many of the wines fall short of the standard of which the region is capable. The 2001 Petaluma Coonawarra stands head and shoulders over most of the wines I tasted, achieving the balance of savoury ripe fruit, fine grained tannins, integrated oak and Coonawarra elegance; an excellent wine well worth having in the cellar.

Into Victoria and cometh the rain. Flippers rather than hooves were the order of the day for the Melbourne Cup field. Driving along the Great Ocean Road in the middle of a storm, one could easily see how it came to be named the Shipwreck Coast. After a few wet days at Apollo Bay it was on to Melbourne for a few days of indulgence and the chance to enjoy a decent coffee, the likes of which you can't get in the UK for love nor money, Monmouth Coffee Company excepted.

My stay in Melbourne also confirmed to me without a doubt that Melbourne leaves London for dead when it comes to value-for-money dining out, at least at the middle end - quality is uniformly high, service is very professional and prices are reasonable.

Wine-wise, there was the chance to visit just the one winery in the Yarra Valley, Yering Station. Yering Station is a major tourist facility and restaurant with a very busy wine sales facility. I tasted most of the wines on tasting (the Reserve wines were not on tasting) and have to admit to being largely underwhelmed, with the one exception of the 2002 Yering Station Shiraz Viognier, a very good example of its style, with ripe supple fruit. Good value at AUD23.50.

Onward and upward from Melbourne to the Victorian Alps via the King Valley, which provided the opportunity to call into Brown Brothers along en route.

King Valley

Brown Brothers
Brown Brothers is a long established Victorian winery with an extensive range, including some interesting wines made from Spanish and Italian varieties. As the range of wines is so large only a selected number was tasted.

1999 Blanc de Blancs
Greenish yellow with golden hints. Touch of toast and lime zest on the nose. Soft fine mousse with a persistent bead. Crisp, dry and elegant. Good length. Well made sparkling wine. VERY GOOD

1998 Patricia Pinot Chardonnay
Lemon yellow with touches of straw. Creamy nose of sourdough, sour cream and fresh apples. Hint of yeasty development. Dry, restrained palate, lemon citrus, green apples and toasted sourdough. Still quite lean, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Although drinking well now, I think this wine could happily develop over the medium term. At AUD39.50 priced toward the upper end of Australian sparkling wines. EXCELLENT

2003 Classic Riesling
Pale silvery lemon. Green apples and lime on the nose, reflected on the light fresh palate. Simple easy drinking Riesling. GOOD

2001 Limited Release Riesling
Made from cool climate fruit grown in Whitlands. Pale lemon yellow. Slightly honeyed bouquet of red apples, lemon citrus and spice. Dry, medium bodied palate driven by racy acidity, crab apple, grapefruit zest and lime. Needs time. Needs to be good at AUD26.50. VERY GOOD

2004 Sauvignon Blanc
Pale silvery lemon. Fragrant herbaceous nose of capsicum and freshly mown grass. Light bodied, crisp, green apples and lemons. Quite herbaceous. Tart and slightly bitter on the finish. Lacks the intensity and complexity of a top flight Sauvignon Blanc. AVERAGE

2003 Roussanne
Medium lemon yellow. Complex aromas of honey, pear, baked apple and spice. Rich and full, but balanced by good acidity, good fruit intensity, pears and red apples. Finishes with creamy oak. A good effort. VERY GOOD

2001 Limited Release Sparkling Shiraz
Medium cherry red. Light mousse and medium sized bubbles. Creamy oak, morello cherries, Ribena and cough medicine on the nose. Rich, medium bodied, cherries and plums, quite medicinal. Lot of residual sugar (far too much for me). Others might like it. GOOD

2002 Tempranillo
Australian winemakers seem to be slowly embracing Tempranillo, which is a good thing. I suspect that this variety could produce some very interesting wines in Australia given its success in different parts of Spain. Medium plum red. Smoky oak on the nose, together with dark berry fruit, slightly earthy. Medium bodied savoury palate. Tannins are firm and tight, good plum and briar fruit. A well balanced decent wine. VERY GOOD

2001 Graciano
Medium crimson with thick legs. Slightly earth nose overlaying macerated strawberries and plums. In the mouth, fuller than the Tempranillo, but still medium bodied. Nice savoury red berry fruit, firm tannins and good balancing acidity. Slightly stemmy but not unpleasantly so. Although not outstanding, this is an interesting wine to follow in future vintages. VERY GOOD

2003 Sangiovese
Medium cherry red. Ripe cherries, redcurrants and boiled sweets on the nose. Earthy, savoury palate, soft tannins, quite high acidity, sweet cherry and plum fruit. Tad lean and austere. Good in as much as it is a contrast to many Australian wines, but too often I find that Australian wine fails to catch the full essence of Sangiovese as a variety. The acidity and savoury palate are there, but I would like to see a bit more generosity of fruit. GOOD

2002 Shiraz
Medium-deep crimson. Smoky/toasty oak, dark cherries and plums. Sweet up front cherry and plum fruit unfortunately dominated by a streak of charry oak. Finishes somewhat short. GOOD

2000 Patricia Shiraz
Brown Brothers' top Shiraz. Medium-deep cherry/plum red. Very volatile nose (boot polish, nail varnish), forward American oak (coconut). Concentrated cherries and plums subsumed under layers of American oak. I find this wine is like chewing on a Cherry Ripe. Not my style. AVERAGE

2003 Durif
Made from Heathcote fruit, somewhat of an anachronism when one is so close to Rutherglen. Deep crimson. Perfumed bouquet of rich ripe cherries, woodsmoke and tar. Rich, powerful super-concentrated palate of dark cherries, bitter plums and liquorice. Tannins are fine grained and acidity is well balanced. The 14.5% alcohol is barely noticeable. VERY GOOD

2000 Patricia Noble Riesling
Made from fruit grown in a part of the King Valley where botrytis occurs naturally in most years. Goldish yellow in colour with hints of green. Marmalade, honey, figs and lime zest on the nose. Light and delicate, but intensely sweet, slightly simpler palate than the nose. Good balancing acidity. In Australian terms this is a bit of a style of its own given the light, delicate palate and low alcohol (9.5%). If anything, it's closer to a German Beerenauslese in terms of style. Not cheap at AUD47.50, but very good. EXCELLENT

2004 Moscato
Inspired by the Moscato d'Asti wines of north-west Italy. Bottled at 6% ABV with a light spritz and noticeable residual sugar. Melon, grapes and fruit salad on the nose. Medium sweet and fresh. Aromas on the bouquet follow through on the palate. A decent wine, but personally I'd rather see the residual sugar wound back just a tad to provide just a bit more freshness on the palate. GOOD

For a large winery with an enormous range, the overall quality of Brown Brothers' wines is admirable. Personally, I find more interest in some of the emerging varieties than traditional wines such as the Shiraz. Hopefully, Brown Brothers will continue to play with these varieties.

Kiewa Valley

From Milawa it was up to Mount Beauty. The visit to Mount Beauty hadn't originally been planned as a wine visit, but unfortunately the weather was so poor that visiting wineries was pretty much all that one could do.

Ceccanti
Ceccanti is a small family owned concern hidden away up a dirt road. Having expected the place to be completely empty and quite possibly closed on a wet spring day, the small cellar door cum restaurant was buzzing. Although having eaten breakfast barely 2 hours earlier I couldn't resist trying the delicious home made Tuscan Bean Soup and some of the lovely Spezzatino. Both were delicious.

As one might gather by the name, Ceccanti has a strong Italian influence. To that extent, oak is downplayed, all of the wines have a fine spine of acidity and they favour austerity over pure fruit power.

2003 Riesling
Pale silvery lemon, almost water white. Quite a spicy bouquet of lemon zest and fresh herbs. Medium bodied, lime drops and grass, slightly herbal. GOOD

2002 Merlot
Mid-ruby fading significantly towards the rim. Already showing some development on the nose - earth and red berries. Medium bodied, soft and supple, dry red berry fruit, dusty tannins, good acidity. GOOD

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium ruby/crimson. Clean youthful nose of blackcurrants and Provencale herbs (rosemary, thyme). Very dry, slightly herbaceous palate, medium bodied, smoky blackcurrant fruit, pencil shaving oak, herbaceous notes, fine acidity. Finishes dry with dusty tannins. Not particularly pleasurable on its own, but improved with food. I was shocked to find out that this wine weighs in at 14.7% as there is no warmth on the back-palate and the wine lacks the richness one might expect of a higher alcohol Cabernet. GOOD

2002 The Reserve
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Merlot (20%) and Shiraz (20%). Deep crimson with long thick legs. Forward ripe nose of plums, vanilla and cloves. Full bodied structured palate of plums, blackberries and liquorice. Quite tannic. Definitely dry. 14.5% ABV, but again no discernible alcohol warmth. VERY GOOD

Ceccanti wines goes somewhat against the grain of the Australian norm, being very dry and structured, presumably designed to go well with food. Personally, I think I'd like to see a bit more forwardness and approachability while not losing the backbone of tannin and acidity. I also wonder if Cabernet Sauvignon is the right grape to be growing in this part of the world. While the alcohol levels seem to suggest that getting the fruit ripe isn't a problem, I tasted a lot of tannin and acidity, but not a great deal of fruit. The Brunello clone of Sangiovese has been planted (harking back to the owner's Italian heritage). It will be interesting to see the results in a few years time.

Bogong Estate
What do you do when you're a successful partner in a global accounting firm? Give it all up and set up a small boutique winery in the Victorian Alps of course. At least that's what Bill Tynan did. Bogong Estate is a tiny winery producing barely 900 cases a year, every single one of them Pinot Noir.

A decent chat with Bill and you quickly learn the challenges of getting into the business of making wine - having one vintage severely tarnished by woodsmoke as a result of bushfires that got dangerously close to the vineyard. Footnote - the 2003 vintage, dubbed Fumé Noir - has not been released commercially. I did, however, buy a litre for cooking and I can confirm that it works really well for braising possum.

2004 White Pinot
Pale strawberry pink. Strawberries and rhubarb on the nose. Dry fresh strawberry fruit with alcohol lending some sweetness. Good weight and flavour. Made as a blush style and it succeeds in doing so. GOOD

2002 Pinot Noir Le Soir
Medium ruby red verging towards garnet. Interesting funky gamy nose, macerated strawberries. Full funky savoury palate, strawberries and cherries, clove and cinnamon spice. Finishes with balancing acidity and a lick of tannin. A very decent Pinot Noir that was significantly more interesting than those tasted at Yering Station a few days earlier. Good value at AUD20. VERY GOOD

2002 Pinot Noir Le Jour
Medium cherry red. Lifted aromatic nose, quite floral, fresh strawberries. Fullish palate of dark cherries and strawberries, quite spicy. Soft tannins. Also priced at AUD20. VERY GOOD

2002 Pinot Noir La Nuit
Bright cherry red. Spicy plummy nose - more in the dark fruit spectrum than the preceding two wines. Full palate, funky, spicy and savoury, dark plum and cherry fruit, hints of balsamic vinegar. Slightly off-putting woody character mid-palate. Good finish. GOOD

2002 Pinot Forté
A fortified Pinot Noir. Medium ruby fading to garnet with thick slow falling legs. Plum, caramel and spice on the nose. Sweet, somewhat simple strawberry plum and spice. Easy drinking, uncomplicated fun style. GOOD

Although not earth-shatteringly complex, Bogong Estate is fashioning some very decent Pinot Noir wines at reasonable prices. There is no doubt that the wines owe their quality to management in the vineyard. The fruit in these wines is very good. Of all of the wines, I prefer the 2002 Pinot Noir Le Soir, a wine that is closer in style to Burgundy than many of the heavily extracted Australian and New Zealand Pinot Noirs.

Rutherglen

From the Victorian Alps we descended down to Rutherglen, renowned for its fortified Muscats and Tokays, as well as robust Durif (Petit Syrah) and Shiraz.

As background information, there is a classification for Rutherglen Muscats and Tokays, ranging from basic Rutherglen, through Classic, Grand and Rare. Unfortunately, different labelling practices of the various wineries and different styles means that it is not always easy to know which wine is the Classic, Grand or Rare.

Morris
Morris is the first Rutherglen winery you come across after leaving the Hume Highway. All of the wines are reasonably proportioned, well balanced and very fairly priced.

NV Sparkling Shiraz Durif
Medium ruby/cherry red. Red berries on the nose with a hint of earth. Quite a savoury palate with a hint of sweetness from the liqueuring, spicy dark berry fruits, liquorice and star anise. VERY GOOD

2001 Blue Imperial
Blue Imperial is another name for the grape better known as Cinsault. Medium cherry red. Perfumed, slightly floral nose, tinned strawberries. Full bodied, soft palate, cherries and macerated strawberries. Easy drinking. GOOD

2001 Shiraz
Medium cherry red. Aromatic nose of cherries and raspberries. Full bodied, dry, soft fruit forward palate of sour cherries and plums. Well balanced. Easy drinking rustic style. GOOD

2001 Durif
Medium ruby/cherry red. Earthy nose, red berry fruits. Soft supple rounded palate, good fruit intensity, cherries and damsons framed by dusty tannins. Needs time. VERY GOOD

NV Cellar Reserve Amontillado
Average age of 15 years. Mid amber in colour. Interesting nose of dried peel, polished furniture, fudge and orange zest. Dry, very tangy palate, dried fruits and a touch of leather. VERY GOOD

NV Old Premium Amontillado
Average age of 25 years. Deep amber in colour. Aromatics show more depth than the Cellar Reserve, as does the palate. Very intense palate of dried peel, tangy orange zest, leather, dried figs and roasted chestnuts. Well integrated spirit. Great to see a winery taking Sherry styles seriously. Worth its AUD42 pricetag. EXCELLENT

1998 Vintage Port
A blend of Shiraz and Touriga Nacional fortified to 18.8%. Deep purple with thick legs. Powerful bouquet of black cherries and blackberries. Full bodied, soft and sweet, ripe plums and figs, soft fine grained tannins. Spirit is well integrated. A medium term keeper. GOOD

NV Canister Liqueur Tokay
Average age of 5-7 years. Deep amber with thick legs. Scented bouquet of dried green tea leaves and orange zest. Toffee apple, honey, fig and hints of toast. Fairly priced at AUD15.50. VERY GOOD

NV Cellar Reserve Tokay
Average age of 15 years. Deep mahogany. Dried fruits, caramel, toffee, mocha and black tea leaves. Rich and sweet, very complex palate of molasses, toffee, burnt toast, roasted chestnuts and mixed peel. Clean refreshing finish. Manages a near perfect balance of freshness and aged complexity. Extremely good value at AUD30 per 50cl bottle. OUTSTANDING

NV Old Premium Liqueur Tokay
Average age of 25 years. Deep tawny with a distinct golden lustre on the rim. Rich, thick and luscious, cocoa butter, espresso coffee, burnt toast, treacle and molasses. Very sweet and complex, but difficult to drink more than one small glass in a sitting. EXCELLENT

NV Black Label Muscat
Intensely grapey and perfumed. Tinned fresh apricots. Honey and caramel. A simple young Muscat. Only AUD10.50 a bottle. GOOD

NV Canister Liqueur Muscat
Intense apricot jam and grapiness. Better intensity, balance and length than the Black Label Muscat.

NV Cellar Reserve Muscat
Interesting and complex on both the nose and the palate - apricots, figs, cumquats, nuts, honey and spice. Good length and balance. Very elegant. EXCELLENT

NV Old Premium Liqueur Muscat
Deep amber. Rich, thick, sweet and unctuous, intense palate of caramelised figs, dried apricots, roasted nuts, burnt toast and roasted spices. OUTSTANDING

Morris wines are of a uniformly high standard across the board. For their quality, the Tokays and Muscats are the best value for money in Rutherglen. All are elegant, well balanced and are neither too heavy or cloying.

Warrabilla
In contrast to most Rutherglen wineries, Warrabilla is better know for its dry red wines than its fortified wines. Fruit for all of the wines is picked super-ripe and fermented until they are near enough to fully dry. This results in amazingly high levels for wines that haven't been pump primed with the addition of grape spirit. In the 2003 vintage, the premium Parola Limited Release Durif achieved 17.5% ABV! These are definitely not wines for the faint hearted.

2004 Reserve Riesling
Made from cool climate King Valley fruit. Ripe nose of passionfruit, lime and lemons. Crisp, fresh and dry palate with lime and grapefruit. Good length. A tame introduction to the Warrabilla range! GOOD

2002 Shiraz Durif
A blend of Shiraz (60%) and Durif (40%). Deep crimson verging towards black, thick legs. Violets, black cherries and smoky oak on the nose. Ripe, full bodied and powerful, raspberries intermingled with dark plums and blackberries, quite savoury. Good concentration and balance. VERY GOOD

2003 Durif Shiraz
A reverse of the 2002 vintage, Durif (60%) and Shiraz (40%). Deepest crimson with thick legs. Smoky dark berry fruit and dark spices. Full bodied, a large wine by any definition, concentrated dark berry fruit, structured tannins and well balanced acidity. A big wine, but neither heavy nor thick. VERY GOOD

2002 Reserve Shiraz
Weighs in at a relatively modest 16% ABV. Matured in 2 and 3 year old American oak. Deep impenetrable purple. Tar, bitumen, boysenberry and blackberries. Full bodied, soft and silky, quite open red and dark berry fruit, moderately tannic. Warm finish. VERY GOOD

2002 Parola Limited Release Shiraz
Up a notch to 16.5% ABV. Matured in new American oak. As with pretty much all of the Warrabilla red wines, deepest crimson and completely opaque. Oak is quite pronounced on the nose - dill, fennel, coconut and vanilla. Full bodied, broad and soft, but firmly structured with chewy tannins. The oak is less noticeable on the palate, subsumed by dark berry fruit and liquorice. A decent wine, but I find the forward oak on the nose a touch distracting. VERY GOOD

2002 Reserve Durif
A beast at 17% ABV. Deepest purple, opaque, almost black. Lifted nose of bitumen, tar, licorice, charcoal and dark plums. Full bodied, ripe but dry, very structured palate (wall of tannin), ultra-concentrated dark berry fruit, smoky oak and dark spices. Slightly warm on the finish, but the wine is in balance. In theory, this wine should have the stuffing to age well, the only question is whether the fruit will outlive the tannins. There's a lot of extraction here. Of its style (a somewhat unique one) it's very good and good value for money at AUD22. EXCELLENT

2003 Reserve Durif
Barely tamer than the 2002 vintage at 16.9% ABV. Colour as per the 2002. The nose is slightly more perfumed and seductive than the 2002, with an interesting floral aroma of violets. On the palate, currently better integrated and more harmonious than the very structured 2002. Fruit characters are much the same, but the texture is smoother and more supple. Also priced at AUD22. EXCELLENT

No one can deny that Warrabilla's wines aren't distinctive. I can think of very few wines on the planet that achieve such levels of natural alcohol. The few that come to mind are some of California's late harvest Zinfandels such as those made by Helen Turley. Old school Priorat could also hit very high alcohol levels, but were extremely rustic and quite spiritous once the fruit faded. The fruit characters of the Warrabilla wines are the sort of characters one would associated with a super-ripe, heavily extracted style. However, the Durifs in particular seem to be able to cope with the alcohol. Whether one likes the flavour is a matter of personal taste. I am not a fan of Rutherglen Shiraz, but the Durif is a unique style. My only concern is whether the fruit will outlast the tannins and alcohol. Time will only tell. It would be very interesting to see what a certain Robert Parker would think of these wines.

Stanton & Killeen
Stanton & Killeen is another long standing Rutherglen producer, particularly known for its Vintage “Ports”. Since 1997, they have been fashioned from Portuguese grapes.

2004 Rosé
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Pale strawberry pink. Scented strawberries and rose petal on the nose. Full bodied, soft sweet (quite a lot of residual sugar) strawberry fruit, light lick of tannin. Acidity just manages to balance the wine. Personally I like my Rosés a bit more savoury and refined. AVERAGE

2002 Shiraz Durif
Medium ruby red. Youthful nose of moderate intensity showing red berries and earth. Full bodied palate, silky texture, red berries (cranberries, raspberries), oak in the background. Finishes with dusty tannins. Slightly austere and drying. A bit disappointing for the vintage. GOOD

2002 Jack's Block Shiraz
Medium to deep ruby red. Charry oak intermingled with red berry fruit. Dry, full bodied, reasonable fruit concentration, red berry fruits (damsons, raspberries). Spicy, toasty oak on the finish. A decent wine, but again surprisingly lacking in punch given the quality of the vintage. GOOD

NV Classic Rutherglen Tokay
Average age of 12 years. Bright mid-amber. Intense nose of marmalade, grapes and tea leaves. The tea leaves also come through on the rich unctuous palate, together with marmalade, dried fruits and caramel. A good Tokay, but I found it to be a bit thick and heavy compared to some of the more elegant wines tasted in Rutherglen. VERY GOOD

NV Classic Rutherglen Muscat
Average age 12 years. Mid-amber. Tinned apricots and honey on the nose. Fresh, full, unctuous and thick, very sweet apricots, coffee beans and florentines. Reasonable length. Like the Tokay, I find the wine to be a bit too heavy and thick for my tastes. VERY GOOD

NV Grand Rutherglen Muscat
Average age 25 years. Deep amber verging towards mahogany. Interesting aromas of toasted spice and coffee grinds, hints of furniture polish. Rich and unctuous, sweet, molasses, coffee bean, treacle, caramel, dried fruit. Well balanced and long. VERY GOOD

1981 Vintage Port
A fully mature Vintage Port made from 100% Jack's Block Shiraz. Medium ruby fading gradually towards the rim. Developed nose of fig, leather and strawberry jam. Full bodied, soft sweet plummy fruit. There's an overt clove character here that I suspect could be brett. For mine, I find it excessive to the point it detracts from the wine, hence the rating. AVERAGE

Having previously been an intermittent purchaser of Stanton & Killeen's wines, I have to admit to being slightly disappointed. I found the fortified wines to be thick, heavy and lacking in elegance compared to some of the other Rutherglen wines, and the 2002 dry reds were quite light for such a good vintage.

RL Buller
Like most Rutherglen wineries, RL Buller's operations are based from a basic looking cluster of galvanised iron sheds. However, the rustic appearance belies the quality of some of the wines.

2002 Sails Durif
Made from Swan Hill fruit and weighs in at 15% ABV. Medium ruby/crimson. Full bodied, dark plum fruit, quite rich. Simple bistro wine. GOOD

2002 Calliope Durif
Dry grown Rutherglen fruit that clocks in at 16% ABV. Deep crimson with thick legs. Rich, ripe and opulent, cherries, kirsch and plums. Full bodied, intense and powerful. More forward and opulent than the Warrabilla Durifs. Warming finish, but in balance. Of its style, very good indeed. Priced at AUD29. EXCELLENT

2002 Calliope Shiraz
Another big 16% ABV wine. Deep ruby red with thick legs. Broad, rich, opulent and spicy. Quite luscious. Deep seated red fruits, plums and damsons. Dry on the finish. A decent wine, but as previously stated I think Rutherglen Durif suits the high alcohol style better than Shiraz. VERY GOOD

2002 Limited Release Shiraz
A mild 14% ABV. Medium-deep ruby red. Prunes, blackcurrants and blackberries on the nose together with coconut shavings. Simple forward sweet fruit on the palate. Finishes quite short. AVERAGE

2001 Limited Release Mondeuse Shiraz
Back to the higher end of the alcohol scale at 15%. Deep seated concentrated dark berry fruit with a slightly leafy note. Full bodied, dry blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, earthy, bitter cherries and mocha. Well balanced. Good length. Quite an interesting style. VERY GOOD

NV Sparkling Shiraz Cabernet
An interesting blend of three vintages - 1972 (50%), 1991 (25%) and 1992 (25%). Mid ruby fading significantly towards the rim. Soft mousse, fine persistent bubbles. Mature fruit on both the nose and the palate - prunes, chocolate, sour cherry, kirsch, blackberries, leather and figs. It's a complex wine, but at 15.5% it's just a bit too warming. VERY GOOD

NV Fine Old Tokay
Honey, nuts, figs and tea leaves. Nice supple mouthfeel. Flavour profile is much as per the bouquet. Well balanced and very elegant. VERY GOOD

NV Calliope Rare Liqueur Tokay
100 Parker points, but is it any good? Considerably richer and more intense than the Fine Old Tokay. A complex interplay of toasted nuts, figs, cocoa, coffee bean, toffee, scorched almonds and raisins. Although sweet, the aged elements contribute a sense of dryness. While being very rich and intense, the wine manages to be light and elegant at the same time. Good value at AUD60 per 37.5cl bottle. OUTSTANDING

NV Fine Old Muscat
Mid-amber verging towards mahogany. Apricot, raisins, figs, honey and Muscat grapiness. Medium weight, rich and sweet, tinned apricots and honey dominate the palate with hints of raisin and toasted pine nut kernels. VERY GOOD

NV Calliope Rare Liqueur Muscat
Another 100 Parker point wine. Deep mahogany. Powerful aromas of toffee, burnt toast and roasted nuts reflected on the palate, including raisins, caramelised orange zest, espresso coffee beans and bitter chocolate. Long, lingering and complex. As was the case with the Tokays, the Rare is a significant step up from the Fine Old Muscat. It is elegantly styled enabling the flavours to dance over one's palate. OUTSTANDING

RL Buller is undoubtedly making some of the very best wines in Rutherglen. The Calliope Durif is another big, take no prisoners style, but the wine has a richness and opulence to carry the wine. The Calliope Rare Liqueur Tokay and Muscat of the same name are both superb wines, complex and long but also elegant and refined. Both priced at AUD60 per 37.5cl bottle, they're not cheap, but given the quality of the wine and the amount of aged material, they're good value for money at this price. So there you have Rutherglen, the home of bruising reds and uniquely Australian fortified wines. The very best of these wines are very good indeed, and the Muscats and Tokays are a distinctive style that Australia should treasure.

Adelaide Hills (Redux)

Back to the Adelaide Hills via Melbourne prior to returning the UK, which provided the opportunity to grab a light lunch at Petaluma's Bridgewater Mill and taste a few wines at the cellar door.

Petaluma

2003 Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling
Pale silvery lemon. Mineral driven nose of wet stones overlaying lemongrass and limes. Medium bodied, taut, racy and steely. Hint of lime and minerals. Good length. Quite backward, but showing more than the 2002 vintage at this point. EXCELLENT

1999 Bridgewater Mill 3 Districts Semillon
A blend of Adelaide Hills, Coonawarra and Clare Valley fruit, as is the case will all wines sold under the Bridgewater Mill label. Partly barrel fermented. Medium lemon yellow with slender legs. Lemon zest dominates the nose and palate, herbaceous hints. Plenty of zingy acidity. Drink now with food or leave for a couple of years. VERY GOOD

2002 Petaluma Chardonnay
Medium lemon yellow with distinct green tinges. Lifted bouquet of spicy French oak, melon, cantaloupe and figs. Dry, savoury and taut with a touch of stonefruit. Very tightly wound at present, needing time to open up. VERY GOOD

2001 Petaluma Coonawarra
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%) and Merlot (50%). Deep crimson, almost opaque. Very classy and refined bouquet of plums, blackberries and smoky cedary oak. Medium bodied, soft, supple and refined, ripe but savoury concentrated plum and blackberry fruit. Finishes with very fine grained ripe tannins and balancing acidity. Good Coonawarra typicity. Without a doubt one of the very best Coonawarra reds I've tasted from the 2001 vintage. EXCELLENT

Also tasted over lunch (no formal notes taken) were the 2003 Petaluma Viognier (good varietal character, but a bit oaky and clumsy) and the 2001 Petaluma Merlot (rounded soft supple plum fruit, but the Petaluma Coonawarra from the same vintage benefits from the added muscle and backbone that the Cabernet Sauvignon contributes).

There you have it: one month in Australia!

back to part I

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