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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
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
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 2011 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.2007...no longer
available, but you get the idea. 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 2011 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: 2013 ILR SEMILLON Sale
2011 GRAVEYARD VINEYARD SHIRAZ Sale $119.99
2011 OAKEY CREEK SEMILLON $34.99
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
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 2016 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 is known as their "Premier" Chardonnay, but that designation seems
to be missing from the label presently.
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 2017 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 2018 spent about 8 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: 2018 VASSE FELIX CHARDONNAY
2017 VASSE FELIX "HEYTESBURY" CHARDONNAY Sale $69.99
2016 VASSE FELIX (Premier) CHARDONNAY $41.99
- ASHBROOK ESTATE
- Here's a magnificent discovery from a property that's been around since
the mid-1970s. They're in Western Australia's Margaret River region
and they cultivate something like 17 hectares of vineyards using sustainable
viticulture. They grow a nice range of grapes, but we have selected
two really good wines which also happen to be attractively-priced.
- The Verdelho grape came to Australia from the island of Madeira where
it's typically been used in making "fortified" wines. It
was used similarly in Australia early on but more recently it's been
vinified as a light, crisp dry white. Ashbrook does a terrific job
of capturing a passion-fruit element as well as having a hint of a ginger
It was dynamite paired with Sea Scallops!
The Ashbrook Shiraz is also a winner and it's closer in style to a French
Syrah than the big Cabernet-styled of reds we frequently find in
Australia. They do several pickings in order to make a more complex
red wine, managing to get a nice range of fruit and spice elements as a
result. They do a fairly intensive regimen for skin maceration
and punch-downs. The wine spent about a year in wood, with 22% of
the barrels being new. But the oak is seemingly hidden here as the
fruit takes the spotlight.
We find some raspberry-like notes here and a hint of a smoky note which
reminds us (a bit) of Northern Rhône Syrah wines.
The 2017 vintage is showing beautifully at this stage and we expect it
will last nicely into 2030 and maybe beyond.
It's an elegant red, not a fruit bomb and not an oaky red.
- Once we tasted these, we sent a note off to a wine judge friend who's an
expert in Aussie and New Zealand wines. We asked what he thought of
these, as we thought they're both well-priced and really good quality.
"Those Ashbrook bottles are really 'smart buys'." he told us.
Currently in stock: 2019 ASHBROOK Margaret River
2017 ASHBROOK Margaret River SHIRAZ $22.99
- 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
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
- CHARLES MELTON WINES
is a tiny winery in the Barossa Valley located in the shadows of Penfolds, Wolf Blass and
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...
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
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
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
- 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 more than 200,000 cases of an impressive portfolio of wines. Maybe
more. There are 60+ 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
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.
A snapshot from the D'Arenberg importer showing a cellar guy, winemaker
Chester Osborne and his Pop, "D'arry."
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
There are a few bottles of the 2013 Dead Arm in stock...a magnificent
wine. It's made entirely of Shiraz. The wine goes into both
French and American oak with a modest percentage of new barrels. It
finishes its fermentations in wood and the wine remains the barrel on its
sediments until they assemble the final blend. The wine, once
blended, is bottled without fining or filtering to clarify it.
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. Add to the mix some earthy notes with a touch of leather and
mint. It's a delight now, despite its relative youth, and probably
can last another ten, or so years.
- Currently available: D'ARENBERG 2013 "Dead Arm"
SHIRAZ (Sale) $59.99