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AUSTRALIAN WINES

 

BROKENWOOD

The Brokenwood story is a remarkable one, in that involves some "heavy hitters" in the world of Australian wine.  

The winery was founded as a hobby for three Sydney-based attorneys, John Beeston, Tony Albert and a fellow whose fingerprints are all over the world of Australian wine, James Halliday.

The trio purchased ten acres of land and planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz on what was going to be a sports field for cricket.
 
That's James Halliday back in the early 1970s...

Another famous wine guru, Len Evans, was instrumental at the beginning, pitching in and lending a hand in 1973 for the first harvest.

The enterprise grew in 1978 when a half a dozen more investors joined the company and allowed Brokenwood to buy another "plot" of land neighboring the estate.  In fact, that turf was intended to be a cemetery, but today it's known as the Graveyard Vineyard.

They were also able to buy fruit,  purchasing Cabernet in Coonawarra.

In 1982 things stepped up even more.  The investors hired a real winemaker and managing director for Brokenwood.  Iain Riggs has been with the company ever since and he was instrumental in Brokenwood becoming a major producer of Hunter Valley Semillon.  White wine was not part of their portfolio until then...and the partners were thirsting for some white wine.

In 1986 the staff doubled in size when they hired an assistant winemaker!
 
Today there are 27 "partners" in the enterprise and the avowed mission statement involves making wines which "deliver value for the money" and which "over deliver" at that.

The winemaking crew at Brokenwood will tell you it takes a lot of "GUTS" to make good wines.  They consider GUTS to stand for "Grapes Unique to Site."

Well, we were first introduced to the Brokenwood wines by some wine-savvy friends in  New York.  I recall tasting some very distinctive red wine...something like this...
Today the place is quite large and they make a vast array of wines.   It's quite a big business compared to such humble beginnings.

Semillon and Shiraz are our interests here, but the company now makes just about everything under the sun.   Viognier, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir...Roussanne, Nebbiolo...and they make a bunch of sweet wines, too.

The top of the line Semillon is called "ILR" Semillon and the ILR stands for the initials of winemaker/GM Iain Leslie Riggs.  In a warm vintage such as 2003, they didn't make very much, using only a small portion of their production for this straightforward wine.  It's fermented in stainless steel tanks with no oak aging and no malolactic.  They bottled it not long after its fermentation and used screw cap closures, assuring it should have a long life span.  
It's a low alcohol wine, weighing in at just 11%, with corresponding high acidity.  
What's remarkable is they don't release this until it's five years of age and it's still a baby!  While the wine has a nice austerity on the palate, there's a lot of character and fairly deep flavors.  
 
They make a wine called Oakey Creek Semillon and this is also a seriously good bottle of wine.
 
 
The 2007 Semillon is fermented in stainless steel and, despite the name of Oakey Creek, the wine is not exposed to wood.  And yet when you take a sniff of the wine in a nice glass, there's a toasty element which might lead you to expect the wine did see some oak.  

The aromas are complex, though, showing notes of lemon-grass, a hint of lime and it's medium-bodied with a nice crisp edge.  

We enjoyed a bottle (as you can see above) at a picnic.  It was delicious with the Dungeness Crab - Avocado starter and the wine continued to shine with Grilled Prawns bathed in a Cilantro Pesto sauce...


We also have a few bottles of their 2006 Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz.
This vintage was unusual in that they harvested much earlier than normal as a result of low yields and a fairly dry growing season.  
The juice gets a few days of cold-soaking before a warm and rapid fermentation...then it's into barrel where they encourage a malolactic.  The wine is then matured in a high percentage of new wood and there's a four-to-one ratio of French to American cooperage.  The wine is medium-full on the palate (it's below 14% alcohol...imagine that!) and shows nice dark fruit and hint of spice and some oak/mocha-like notes.  
 

Currently in stock:  2003 ILR SEMILLON  Sale $39.99
2006 GRAVEYARD VINEYARD SHIRAZ  Sold Out
2007 OAKEY CREEK SEMILLON  $28.99



 

VASSE FELIX

This is an old time producer in Southwest Australia and it's named for a French explorer who, around the very early 1800s, was marooned in the choppy sea off the coast.  His name was Vasse and his name was associated with the region in the books recording the history of that area.

A fellow named Dr. Thomas Cullity was searching for suitable vineyard land in the region and he choose the name Vasse Felix (translating to something like 'lucky Vasse,' despite Monsieur Vasse's lack of luck).  Cullity was in search of a place to cultivate Cabernet, Shiraz, Malbec and Riesling.   And, in fact, he had a small measure of success with his first vintages in the early 1970s.

But Cullity sold the enterprise in 1984 and those folks quickly tired of the demands of such a business and they, in turn, sold the place in 1987 to the Holmes a Court family.  (Mr. Robert Holmes a Court was a lawyer who ended up a major business entrepreneur...some accounts describe the late Holmes a Court as a corporate raider.)

The bottom line is the place was started by a pioneer of Margaret River wine history and it's now owned by some wealthy folks who seem to appreciate the art and artistry of winemaking, while understanding it's not a hugely financially rewarding business.  At least, not like some of their other investments.

Especially noteworthy at Vasse Felix is their work with Chardonnay.  We've also found good, rather elegant Cabernet here.  The top Chardonnay, though, is one which might make Meursault, Chassagne and Puligny-Montrachet vintners a bit envious.  

Virginia Willcock came on board in 2006 and so 2007 was her first vintage at Vasse Felix.  At a seminar showing her wines in San Francisco, she explained how they had been making Chardonnay for so many years, picking grapes at high levels of sugar, using this yeast or that, particular barrels and trying to make the same wine everyone else was making.  

Virginia said they made the mistake of imitating Burgundian winemaking techniques on decidedly Margaret River Chardonnay fruit.

"In Burgundy they try to pick at a high level of sugar, given the vintage.  They do full malolactic.  Stupid!  It took us 15 years to unlearn what we had learned.  Pick it too late and ripe it makes this peachy/pineappley beverage that's dead in three years."

"What really helped us to improve the wine to the level of quality it's at today is we started listening to the grapes.  We paid attention to crop levels and then fermentation and aging and over the years we've figured out how to be allow our grapes to become a really good wine." she said.  "But first we had to listen to the vineyards!"

Virginia went on to say "We pick earlier than years ago, in that we harvest at lower sugar levels.  We also monitor the acidity and we no longer induce a secondary, malolactic fermentation.  And  we don't 'polish' the juice.  It's okay if it's a bit odd and funky early on.  Sure, our wine shows a sulfidey character in its youth, but this allows it to evolve to a greater level of complexity."  

A 2012 vintage Chardonnay is very good and it's one of those wines we'd peg as a great ambassador for Margaret River as a viable, high quality wine region.

It's a French oak-aged wine, spending a bit less than a year in wood.  This shows a beautifully toasty note with lots of Granny Smith apple-like fragrances.  Add to this portrait a crisp level of acidity and you have a complex wine which probably will repay cellaring if you're so inclined.

I was totally enchanted by their reserve Chardonnay which carries the Heytesbury designation (Holmes a Court's holding company carries this name an has investments in race horses, fast automobiles, movie theaters, a bank and more!).

The 2012 is a gorgeous Chardonnay, comparable to seriously good French white Burgundy.  It's more aligned with French styling than California, being around 13% alcohol and high in acidity.  They employ a higher percentage of new French oak to the Heytesbury and it a considerable amount of battonage (stirring the spent yeast sediment), creating an immense wine of major importance.  Stony, minerally, appley, woodsy, crisp, tangy...all good descriptors.  I'd add soulful, too.

Their normal bottling of Chardonnay now carries the name "Filius" on the label, some sort of reference to the Latin word for offspring or son.

The 2014 spent about 9 months in French oak, with about 21% of the cooperage being new.  The wine is mildly toasty and shows a nice appley note of the Chardonnay.  It's a wine you can easily put on the table in place of a California wine or some of the similarly-priced French bottlings of Bourgogne Blanc (or those from the Macon area).

These are both seriously good Chardonnays and are "world class" wines.

Currently in stock:  2014 VASSE FELIX CHARDONNAY "Filius"   $25.99
2012 VASSE FELIX "HEYTESBURY" CHARDONNAY Sale $49.99

 

 

TORBRECK
This magnificent brand is one we've followed for a number of years, but it's only fairly recently that we've brought in some of Dave Powell's wine.

His Pop had been an accountant and Dave was on a career path which would have taken him to bean counting, as well.  An uncle introduced him to wine and soon he found himself exploring the wine business in California and Italy.  He took the wrong exit off the freeway in Europe and was in Scotland, working as a lumberjack.
 
 
When he came back home to Australia, he was associated with winemaker Robert O'Callaghan, a major figure in the Barossa Valley wine scene.  Powell thought there might be some benefit to "old vines" and was disappointed that the government offered money to land owners to rip out their vineyards in the 1980s.  He offered to cultivate some of these old parcels and rejuvenated numerous vineyards.  In the 1990s he began vinifying the fruits of his labor and the first Torbreck wines were made.

And the name, Torbreck, was selected thanks to his lumberjack days in Scotland...it's the name of a forest near Inverness in the Highlands...

Powell is a fan of French Rhone Valley wines and he found old patches of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre in the Barossa Valley.  A few years after starting his own brand, Powell was able to purchase some land and he planted white varieties such as Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.  
 
Things, as they often do in the wine business, became a bit financially challenging and Powell took on an investor to help ease the monetary issues.  A few years later, things happened which caused Powell to leave the Torbreck enterprise and he sent out a remarkable letter.

CLICK HERE TO SEE POWELL'S LETTER AND A LINK TO A NEWS ARTICLE WITH THE MONEY MAN WHO BOUGHT TORBRECK.


We have a youthful, wonderful red wine from Torbreck.  It was initially made exclusively for a Parisian wine bar owned by Tim Johnston.  


 

Monsieur Johnston speaks a moderate amount of English as does Mr. Powell and so the wine is sold under the name "Juveniles," as that's Johnston's wine bar.  The painting on the label is the work of Johnston's daughter, Carolyn.

Dave & Tim both shared an appreciation for wines from the Rhone Valley and the Juveniles cuvee is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Shiraz and 20% Mourvedre.  We like the berry and spice notes in this delicious red wine.  It also strikes us as having the perfect balance of fruit and oak (it was not wood-aged, by the way).  Not a wine intended for cellaring, this is a delight served at cool cellar temp.  

We liked the 2009 "Woodcutter's Shiraz," a wine named to recall Powell's days as a lumberjack.  Of course, given how much oak one often finds in so many Aussie Shiraz, you might be led to believe this wine is going to have a forest-full of wood.  But, in fact, the wine is matured for about a year in older cooperage, so wood is not a feature of this wine.  It's a medium-full bodied Shiraz.  A sales rep for the local distributor told us a group of sommeliers picked this wine as either an Old World Barbera (Really?  It's not terribly acidic!) or an Old World Syrah (not sure what Syrah wines they're drinking from the Old World...).

Well, we like the wine because it's not a hugely-oaked Aussie Shiraz and yet it doesn't remind us much of Northern Rhone wines, either.  It's simply a nice, robust, big red with dark fruit notes.  There may be a very subtle spice note in there, but you'll have to dive deeply to find it.  The wine is very pretty now, though and it will probably do well over the next three to five years in terms of aging.  

Other wines in the Torbreck line-up include a Semillon, a Roussanne-Marsanne blend, Woodcutter's Shiraz and proprietary reds such as The Steading, The Struie, The Factor, The Pict and Les Amis (we can order these for you).

Currently in stock:  2009 TORBRECK "JUVENILES"  Sale $19.99
2009 TORBRECK "WOODCUTTER'S SHIRAZ"  $21.99


 

 

GREENOCK CREEK

Annabelle and Michael Waugh own this little winemaking enterprise, which began in the late 1970s in the Barossa Valley.  The cellar is near Seppeltsfield and the wines are a bit of a trophy for those lucky enough to be able to own a few bottles.

The vineyards are kept to low yields and the wines tend to be robust and showpieces.  I gather the Waughs are not interested in courting Australian wine writers, as they apparently don't send free samples for critique.
And this must drive those blokes crazy, seeing the wines have been reviewed by American publications!

We had a chance to taste some 2011s, a vintage described as challenging.  One assessment of 2011 in the Barossa Valley was that it was a "French vintage," as they had a bit of rain.

We tasted through a range of wines and picked Alices Vineyard Shiraz as a terrific bottle.  We liked it better, by the way, than their Roennfeldt Road Shiraz which is one of those "wines on steroids."  The Alice's bottling has nice fruit and some berries & spice, which the one selling for a few hundred bucks a bottle was simply jammy and over-ripe.

The Alices Vineyard takes its name from Annabelle's Mom, Alice and Michael's Aunt Alice.  

The vines are not terribly old.  They were planted in 1997 and crop levels are restricted, so they're trying to maximize concentration and intensity of this wine.
They keep the free run lots separated from "press wine" and they'll assemble a blend just before bottling to come up with their best wine representing the vineyard.  It's matured in American oak with a small percentage of the cooperage being brand new...but only a smallish percentage.  This is not one of those oaked up bottlings.  You can actually taste the red fruit notes of the Shiraz.  

We fairly certain The Alices are proud of this wine.
 
 

Currently in stock:  2011 GREENOCK CREEK "Alices Vineyard" SHIRAZ  Sale $69.99

 




 

PENLEY

The Penley label is fairly new, but the fellow behind it has great pedigree in the Australian wine world.

That man would be Kym Tolley and he's the great-great-great grandson of Christopher Rawson-Penfold.  And of course, he's a Tolley family member, another old name in Australian wine.

The winery name, then, comes from PENfold and tolLEY.
Remember, he's a winemaker, not a rocket scientist!

The Penley winery was founded in 1988, well after Kym Tolley had worked at the Penfolds winery and Grange Hermitage winemaker Max Schubert.

The property covers something like 166 hectares and they've planted approximately two-thirds of the estate. They're in the Coonawarra region, so Cabernet is a prominent feature of the Penley roster of wines.  The first vintage was 1989 and a decade later they built a new cellar.

The Penley style seems to be that of elegance, rather than power.  These sorts of wines probably won't appeal to the fans of Marquis Phillips, Molly Dooker or Two Hands brands.  

We have Penley's 2010 "Phoenix" Cabernet in stock.  You might think Tolley chose the Phoenix name as he's resurrected some old winery, vineyard or the like.  But, in fact, a Tolley family member had purchased the Phoenix Winemaking & Distilling Company back in 1888 before changing the name to “Tolley Scott Tolley."

The wine is entirely Cabernet Sauvignon and it spent 15 months in wood, 28% of the cooperage being brand new French oak.  It's intended for immediate drinking, rather than cellaring, so enjoying a bottle of this wine over the next couple of years is ideal.  

We can order other Penley wines for you...

Currently in stock:  2010 PENLEY Coonawarra "Phoenix" CABERNET SAUVIGNON  SALE $19.99



CHARLES MELTON WINES

melton9popes.gif (3307 bytes)Melton's is a tiny winery in the Barossa Valley located in the shadows of Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Orlando. 

However, while those wineries spill more wine in a month than Melton makes in a year, his quality has people lined up in hopes of acquiring a bottle of wine.  

Knowing that Grenache, of which he owns some rather old vines, is thought to be  somewhat "noble" by those compatriots in the southern Rhone Valley, Melton decided to make a Chateauneuf-du-Pape-styled blend (Australia's version of Randall Grahm's Le Cigare Volant?).  

As he's not fluent in French, Melton's translation in "Australian-speak" came out as "Nine Popes."  (Neuf, of course, is both the number 9 as well as signifying "new" as in Chateauneuf).   While this is comical to some people, the wine is quite serious and the fact that it's nearly impossible to obtain is even less funny.   The wine has nice spiciness and a mildly cedary note from the touch of oak you'll find in this Grenache-dominated blend.  Typically it incorporates a bit of Syrah and Mourvèdre.    

He also makes a sensational Rosé from Grenache, a deep-colored pink wine with exceptionally raspberryish fruit and mild spice notes.  It is quite dry and a bit fuller in body than a typical rosé.  In Australia it's called Rose of Virginia in honor of Mrs. Melton.  Here, the U.S. government made him change the label so people would not think the wine was from the state of Virginia.

We have a really fine Shiraz from Melton...

It's a 2009 Shiraz from the Barossa Valley called "Kirche" and it's a wine made with much care and thought in terms of the final assemblage of various lots.
Melton's fruit comes from low-yielding vineyards and the grapes are harvested at a range of degrees of ripeness.  And they employ all sorts of techniques on the various lots: hand-plunging, foot-treading (pigeage), pump-overs.  Some of the wine is matured in American wood, some lots in French oak.  

The resulting wine is marvelously complex and satisfying.  It's a medium-full bodied red showing notes of berry and spice, along with a nicely woodsy quality from the barrels.  It's ready to drink now, so fire up the barbie and get busy!


Currently available:  Charles Melton 2002 "Nine Popes"   $39.99 (last bottles)
CHARLES MELTON 2009 "Kirche" SHIRAZ  (list $45) Sale $39.99
 


 

 


D'ARENBERG
d'arenbergdeadarm.gif (5323 bytes)A prominent winery in the McLaren Vale of South Australia, D'Arenberg, ironically, was owned by a teetotaler in the early part of the 1900s.  Today they make 120,000 cases of an impressive portfolio of wines.  Maybe more.  There are 45 wines listed on their website currently!

Many are relatively simple bottlings and they may have a good market for them at home and at the cellar door, but these don't find a home in our shop.

At one time, this brand seemed like a reliable producer.  We tasted a few of their recent bottlings which have been bottled with screw-caps and these showed "reductive" notes on the nose, with stinky, H2S aromas.  It may be, however, that the wines went into the bottle in good condition, but that these more secure closures have allowed the wines to veer off course and into a curiously funky state.


More serious from D'Arenberg are their Shiraz wines. 

They also make a wine they could probably call "Really Old Vine Shiraz," but instead it's labeled as "Dead Arm Shiraz."  This is because the vines are so old an "arm" is actually nothing but dead wood (not to be confused with oak or the sawdust some producers use to flavor their wines!).  

Older vintages, we seem to recall, had some Cabernet in the blend, but recent notes from the winery do not indicate this is their current practice.  

There are a few bottles of the 2007 Dead Arm in stock...a magnificent wine.  In tasting a number of D'Arenberg wines, this remains the most interesting from a connoisseur standpoint.
It's a fairly full-bodied Shiraz, showing lots of black fruit notes and a mild spice tone.  The oak is present, but well-matched by the fruit.  It's a delight now, despite its relative youth, and probably can last another ten, or so years.  
Currently available: 
D'Arenberg "Dead Arm" Shiraz 2007 (Sale) $59.99





 

 

 

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