Penfolds Masterclass – the real review

You may recall I previously reviewed the recent releases of the Penfold’s collection in 2019 in this blog. The 2021, ‘101 Masterclass’ was a slick affair held in May. It was evident at the masterclass that the domestic marketing of Treasury Estates has gone up a notch or two. Probably due to the China impact.
Generous pours, non stop hors d’oeuvres, an informative colourful 20 page brochure, (no ‘Rewards of Patience’ though) and hosted by Jamie Sach, Penfold’s Global Ambassador. The 65 attendees were treated to nine of the recent releases starting with 2021 Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling and 2018 Max’s Chardonnay.

2020 Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling
From Eden Valley it is highly aromatic, spicy and quite zingy and with just 3-4 grams of sugar it finished beautifully on the palate. Off dry. $25.00. 16/20.

2018 Max’s Chardonnay
A complex Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills. The range is a tribute to Max Schubert but this wine was over oaked for my palate.Underneath was rich lemon sneaking onto the palate.
$35.00.14/20

2019 Bin 311 Chardonnay
This wine sits behind the flagship Yattarna and is known as the ‘baby Yattarna’. The first Bin 311 vintage was in 2006. This vintage comes from 3 of the Penfold’s best cool climate Chardonnay regions of Tasmania, Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba. Balanced mouth watering acidity with nice finish of citrus stone fruits. Will continue to mature over 5 years added by a screw cap. BUY. $50.00. 17.5/20.

2018 Bin 23 Pinot Noir
From parcels sourced from Tasmania, Adelaide hills and Henty. This was light/medium in colour, light bodied, rose petals, hints of strawberries and soft finish throughout the palate. A very delicate style for those who like a softer rather than full bodied pinot. $50.00. 17.5/20.

2017 Cellar Reserve Tempranillo
Tempranillo is a variety of black grapes and mainly used to make full bodied reds. This ‘noble grape of Spain’ is from McLaren Vale. I found the nose quite closed with dark lifted cherries and strawberries coming through and nicely balanced on the finish. I was reminded by the Chair to vigorously decanter young wines to release the aromatics something which I preach. Also for older wines the shorter the breathing the better, as oxygen is the enemy of old wines and will escalate oxidation. $85.00. 17/20.

“Numerous questions were asked and the answers were very informative in response. I asked about the pricing structure of Penfold’s wines and the continued increase in price each year. That the prices were now getting beyond long and loyal buyers who were now seeking quality value under $30. I pointed out that not so many years ago Bin 389 could be bought for under $50 and Grange at $250. The answer lies in the hands of accountants we were told.”

2018 Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz
This work horse was first made in 1959 and is the oldest wine in the Bin range. It was the highlight of the night for me delivering on price and quality. Now stand by as the grapes were blended from parcels from Barossa, McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Wrattonbully, Fleurieu, Robe, Mt Lofty, Adelaide Hills and Langhorne Creek! Wow what a massive undertaking. Dark deep colour, it was big, bold and robust showing cedar, peppermint, chocolate, raspberries and hints of spice. Wonderful full mouth hit. Cellar for up to 15 years if you dare!  BUY.$50.00. 19.5/20. Cheaper if you hunt around the liquor chains.

2017 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz
Another ripper blended from 6 regions. Touted as the ‘Baby Grange’ it was first made by Max Schubert in 1960. Bin 389 matures in the previous vintages of Grange barrels. It is also listed as Australia’s no 1 most collected wine by Wine Ark. Big and bold it does not hold back. Loaded with cherries, chocolate, blackberries, spice and mint. Has a delightful balance of sweetness (Cabernet Sauvignon) and savoury (shiraz). It leaps out of the glass and we were told it will be at it’s peak in a band of 15-20 years. BUY. $100.00. 19.5/20. Hunt around for price. Pity about the continuing price rises!

2017 St Henri Shiraz
You might classify this as a stylish, old fashioned aristocratic wine made in the same mould as previous vintages. Deep black brooding colour before you are hit with purity of fruit laced with chocolate, blackberries, cherries and black olives. Long on the palate with a hint of mint on the front of the tongue.
At the moment it is certainly stylish and seductive but ideally needs a band of 10- 30 years. I will hop into it much, much sooner than that. BUY. $135.00 19.5/20. Once again check the internet for a better price.

Grandfather Rare Tawny Port
Comes in a gift box. 14 year old barrels worked in the solera maturation method. There was raisin, fruitcake and liquorice on the palate but I think spoilt by the high level of alcohol over powering on the nose. Nevertheless rich, powerful and nutty but that alcohol over rides this wine. $100.00. 16/20

Summary.
There is no doubt that this Penfold’s release is a class act particularly with the BUY recommendations indicated.  Top of the list and best value is the 2018 Bin 28 Shiraz followed by the 2019 Bin 311 Chardonnay for white wine lovers. If you can afford the others go for it but I suggest not, if you are approaching your 80th year as the wine will outlive you. Refer to the 2019 review in Posts.

Add your comments below.

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The influence of different screw caps on wine quality

I came across this interesting article which is quite technical but may explain and clarify screw tops and its effect on bottle ageing. Now I do warn you to stay with it as it is complicated in its narrative.

I acknowledge the academic author Volker Schneider. I have edited the story the best I can without losing its context.

Summary
Screw caps differ in the oxygen barrier effect of their sealing inserts. Too much oxygen promotes oxidative ageing, too little oxygen promotes reductive ageing. Reductive ageing under hermetically sealing bottle closures is due to the formation of increased levels of volatile sulphur compounds, in particular thiols and H2S, whose odour causes reductive taints. Their prevention by the addition of copper salts before bottling is commonly opposed due to a variety of concerns. As an alternative, a functionalised liner for screw caps has been developed. It traps the thiols responsible for the occurrence of post-bottling reduction flavour and at the same time protects the fruity varietal aromas from oxidative ageing through its perfect oxygen barrier effect.

Introduction

Fruity white wines develop different sensory expressions of ageing. The best known of these is typical ageing, which is intensified by oxygen uptake via the bottle closure. Conversely, it is largely prevented by the widespread use of screw caps, in some cases with hermetically sealing inserts. However, such closure systems promote the so-called reductive ageing through the formation of reductive taints in the bottle. The development of a functionalised liner for screw caps opens up a way out of this dilemma.

From the moment a wine is bottled with different closures, the emergence of different wines from the same initial wine begins. In white wines, essentially four different sensory expressions of maturation and ageing develop:

  • Typical or oxidative ageing,
  • Atypical ageing (ATA),
  • Petrol flavour,
  • Reductive ageing.

Without any doubt, every white wine is subject to ageing. The only question is which of the above-mentioned types of ageing it is and how quickly it develops. In most wines, the bottle closure, and particularly its oxygen permeability, plays a prominent role.

 Different chemical reactions and odour-active compounds are responsible for the formation of the various forms of ageing. Two of them are predetermined by viticultural factors. Petrol flavour, for example, occurs almost exclusively in Riesling wines obtained from physiologically ripe grapes grown under hot-climate conditions, whilst the development of atypical ageing is observed exclusively in wines obtained from stressed fruit. The occurrence of these two very specific types of ageing is not related to the availability of oxygen. Consequently, it is not influenced by the oxygen permeability (OTR) of the bottle closure.

Regardless of this, the development of petrol flavour is significantly increased with screw caps because, in contrast to internally sealing closures such as corks, these have little material that could absorb the compound responsible for petrol flavour (TDN).

Typical or oxidative ageing

The situation is completely different with oxidative ageing. It has always been known and is, globally speaking, the most common sensory expression of white wine ageing. It is mainly due to the oxygen ingress through the bottle closure. In this process, odour-active compounds are formed under the influence of oxygen, of which methional, benzaldehyde, 2-phenylacetaldehyde, 3-methylbutanal and furfural are the most important ones and are considered indicator substances. They are higher aldehydes formed by oxidation of their corresponding alcohols. Their aroma notes of nuts, dry herbs, honey, cooked vegetables and boiled potatoes increasingly mask the fruity varietal aroma and cause a distinct madeirized aroma in extreme cases.

In contrast to the well-known acetaldehyde, which in its free form elicits its typical smell reminiscent of bruised apples and sherry and which can be bound by sulphur dioxide, these higher aldehydes barely react with SO2. Therefore, their formation cannot be effectively prevented by bottling with increased levels of free SO2. The reactions that lead to their formation are largely irreversible. They are controlled by oxygen supply and significantly accelerated by warm bottle storage.

Screw caps counteract oxidative ageing because they protect the bottled wine relatively well or even hermetically from absorbing atmospheric oxygen. This is one of the reasons for their almost universal acceptance in some countries. On the other hand, the assumption that the well-sealing screw caps protect the wine against any kind of adverse ageing is wrong.

Screw caps as an answer to oxidative ageing

In oxygen-sensitive white wines, differences in oxygen uptake of more than 5 mg/L O2can be discriminated by sensory means. This led to the initial assumption that the ideal closure for such wines would seal hermetically and prevent any oxygen ingress in order to preserve the fruity primary aromas for as long as possible. Since screw caps fulfil this requirement better than most other closures, there was initially nothing against their widespread introduction. This was especially the case when, a few months after bottling, the oxygen dissolved in the wine and the oxygen trapped in the bottle headspace has been completely bound and consumed by the wine, the closure takes control of oxidative ageing. With increasing bottle storage, the influence of the bottle closure comes more and more to the fore.

Significance of the sealing insert in the screw cap

Contrary to popular belief, however, screw caps are not a uniform type of closure, but are distinguished from one another by different sealing systems with different oxygen barrier effects.

Each screw cap consists of an outer aluminium cylinder and a single or multi-layer sealing insert. The outer cylinder fixes the insert in the correct position and presses it onto the bottle rim with the required pressure. The sealing insert provides the seal between the product and the closure, seals the bottle and prevents the diffusion of gases and liquids. It determines the tightness and functional quality of the screw cap. Thanks to their specific characteristics, the inconspicuous sealing inserts are the central element of screw caps and their functional end. In other words: Screw caps are as good as their sealing inserts. The latter are produced by specialised companies. The multitude of screw cap manufacturers is supplied by only a few manufacturers of sealing inserts.

Originally, the sealing insert consisted only of simple elastomers such as PVC or PE, which were injected into the aluminium cylinder. In the wine business, such inserts are mainly found in the short-skirted MCA or roll-on pilfer proof screw caps, which are preferably used in the segment of simple and inexpensive wines.

The gold standard for screw caps is now considered to be the long-skirted (60 x 30 mm) variants such as “Stellvin” or “Longcap”, which require a BVS bottle neck finish. Instead of injected elastomers, multi-layer sealing liners are predominantly used in these closures. Two main variants of such sealing liners are known (Figure 1):

Figure 1: Structure of common liners used for screw caps.fig1

Reductive ageing

At the turn of the millennium, when the hermetically sealing screw cap with a tin-saran liner was introduced, Australia’s and New Zealand’s wine industries took a pioneering role. One of their reasons was the pursuit of better preservation of the fruity varietal aroma of white wines under absolute oxygen exclusion. After a short delay, the wine industry in several European countries also adopted this logic.

The initial euphoria ‘Down Under’ soon gave way to more sober reflection when a greater tendency of the wines to developing aromas described as reductive or sulphurous was demonstrated under conditions of absolute air exclusion such as under the tin-saran lined screw caps.

The oxygen supply through the selected bottle closure determines whether the ageing of the wine is driven more in the oxidative or more in the reductive direction.

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How China is devastating Australia’s wine industry

Since an email circulated listing all Australian wineries owned by Chinese interests, an outcry began, urging all Australians to cease buying wine from Chinese owned wineries in this country.

This Blog features all the reasons why we should buy from local wineries, Chinese owned or not. We must support the local industry. Full stop.

Many of these owners are of course Australian citizens – have invested in Australian infrastructure, pay Australian taxes, employ Australian people of diverse national backgrounds and buy from grape growers and packaging companies and those that provide industry services.

This edited article by Ben Westcott of CNN Business explains the dilemma facing the wine industry in this country.

South Australian winemaker Jarrad White spent almost a decade building his business in China. Then, in a matter of months it fell apart.

It had nothing to do with the quality of White’s wines at his vineyard in McLaren Vale. Instead, it was the result of months of worsening diplomatic frictions between China and Australia. 

White lived in Shanghai for several years, setting up a network of distributors to sell his Jarressa Estate wine to the booming Chinese market, where demand for foreign wines among the middle class was growing fast.

By mid-2020, more than 96% of Jaressa Estate’s wines were being sold to consumers in China – up to seven million bottles a year. But in November, Beijing announced crippling tariffs on Australian wine as part of an “anti-dumping investigation” into whether those wines were being sold too cheaply in China. The government said the probe was prompted by complaints from Chinese wine producers.

White says he hasn’t sold a single bottle since.

Grapes on the vine at Tahbilk winery in central Victoria in February 2020.Grapes on the vine at Tahbilk winery in central Victoria in February 2020.

Currently, hundreds of thousands of bottles of Jarressa Estate wine are piled on pallets in a warehouse in Adelaide waiting for the tariffs to be lifted.

“It’s hurting us dramatically. We had a lot of supplies that needed to be paid for and all these orders that were planned to shift, so it’s left us in an awkward situation,” White said.

He isn’t alone. Hundreds of Australian wine producers who invested heavily in China’s wine boom are now facing an uncertain future.

The value of exports of wine to China dropped to almost zero in December, according to statistics from industry group Wine Australia. The total value of wine exported to China for all of 2020 dropped by 14% to about 1 billion Australian dollars.

China maintains the measures are needed to stop cheap wine imports from depressing the local market. But the Australian wine industry believes it has more to do with worsening tensions between the two countries.

A customer looks at a bottle of wine imported from Australia at a supermarket on November 27 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China.A customer looks at a bottle of wine imported from Australia at a supermarket in November last year in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Provence of China.

The Wine Boom  

Before November, China was Australia’s biggest wine market by far. In 2019, more than a third of the wine that Australia exported went to China. They bought A$1.1 billion from Australian vineyards, according to Wine Australia. That year, Australia sold more wine by value to China than to the United States, United Kingdom and Canada combined.

Alister Purbrick, a fourth-generation wine maker and chief executive of the Tahbilk Group, said that Australia had been building its wine business in China for years, but it had only really taken off after the two countries signed free trade agreement in 2015, which removed 14% tariffs on Australian wine. The removal of tariffs supercharged a growing industry. Between 2008 and 2018, Australia’s wine exports to China jumped from $73 million to over $1 billion.

China’s demand for wine isn’t limited to Australia. France is still the leading exporter of wine to China. Australia comes in second, and there is also strong demand for Chilean labels.

Zheng Li, who owns a wine business in Hangzhou, said he thinks Australian wine has found success in China because it is, in his opinion, better than the wines produced elsewhere — and it’s also cheaper, mostly thanks to the free trade agreement between the two countries. He added that the higher alcohol content is also appealing to Chinese drinkers who are used to baijiu, a popular, strong liquor made from rice.

Another perk: Chinese consumers find the labeling system Australian winemakers use easier to understand than the regional labeling used by European companies, Zheng said. For example, Treasury Wines’ popular Penfolds brand labels its wine by Bins — as in Bin 8, Bin 28, Bin 389 — which refer to where the wine is stored before being sold. Some Australian winemakers also attribute the popularity of Australian wines to what they describe as the country’s clean environment and appealing climate.

“There’s no denying the quality of the Australian wine and the purity of the country, the climate, the product, it’s clean, it’s pure and a very good quality wine, very palatable,” said White from Jarressa Estate.

But the wine boom was also the product of years of work by Australia, which targeted the growing Chinese middle class with advertising and education campaigns, according to Lee McLean, Wine Australia’s general manager of government relations and external affairs. Chinese sommeliers and winemakers were brought to Australia, along with tour groups who would visit vineyards to sample the produce. Purbrick, from the Tahbilk Group, said that some Melbourne vineyards employed Mandarin translators for the Chinese tour groups.

Alister Purbrick, chief executive of the Tahbilk Group, walks through his vineyard in central Victoria in February 2020.Alister Purbrick, chief executive of the Tahbilk Group, walks through his vineyard.

“Even before the tariffs, Australia’s wine industry was having a difficult year. A series of terrible weather events hurt yields by as much as 40% in the first half of 2020, Purbrick said, including hail storms, drought and the catastrophic summer bushfires which caused “smoke taint” in some vineyards’ harvests.

The coronavirus pandemic, meanwhile, led to reduced orders from China and elsewhere as economic growth slowed around the world.” he explained. But those two effects have been a walk in the park compared to the China effect,” said Purbrick. Political relations between Australia and China began to rapidly deteriorate in April 2020 after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19.

Beijing was furious. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called Morrison’s comments “highly irresponsible” and Chinese Ambassador to Australia Chen Jingye openly mused about the possibility of economic fallout. “Maybe the ordinary [Chinese] people will say ‘Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?'” he told the Australian Financial Review at the time.

Shortly afterward, a number of Australian exports — including timber, beef, some types of coal and eventually, wine — began to encounter difficulties entering the China market. In August, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced an ‘anti-dumping’ investigation into Australian wine, which led the ministry in November to impose temporary tariffs of up to 212%. It isn’t clear at this stage when the tariffs will expire or be made permanent.

Australian trade minister: China tariffs a 'devastating blow' to wine industry

Purbrick said that a quarter of the exports from his family’s Tahbilk Winery, which has operated for more than a century, had been to China. Now that business is gone.”Now it is effectively zero sales, or very small sales, into China,” he said.

Wine barrels and pallets of bottles are stacked at a winery in the Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, on December 7.

The blame game

Many winemakers in Australia are convinced that the tariffs are political retaliation by China in response to Australia’s calls for an investigation into the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Australia’s only a little nation. We should have absolutely supported it, but we didn’t need to lead the charge,” Purbrick said.

Others in Australia lay some blame at the door of the Chinese wine industry, which they claim pushed for action due to concerns over the growing popularity of Australian wine.

 The China Alcoholic Drinks Association said domestic wine production shrank 61% between 2015 and 2019. It firmly pointed the finger at Australia, whose wine exports to China more than doubled over the same period.

The domestic industry is “deteriorating rapidly,” they  said, adding that low-price Australian wine is “damaging the domestic industry” in China.

In its response, Australian Grape and Wine, Australia’s national association of winegrape and wine producers, said Australian imports were not to blame for the downturn in China’s domestic wine industry.

Quoting analysis by drinks market research firm International Wine and Spirits Research, it said local Chinese wines were “beset by structural problems arising from the rush to increase production during the 1990s and 2000s. These include high costs, unsuitable soils and climates, excessive yields, poor quality and image.”

China’s local wine industry doesn’t have the capacity to meet the growing demand for “high quality wines,” it said, adding that other countries were exporting wine to China in higher volumes and at lower prices than Australia.

Bruce Tyrrell, managing director of Tyrrell’s Wines put it this way: “The sales of domestic Chinese wine started to decline and the Chinese wine markers started to say, ‘Get these bloody Australian winemakers out of our market.'”

He added: “I’m sure my answer was, ‘Make better wine.'”

Tyrrell said that while China had made up as much as 25% of his business, his winery was now treating it as a non-market. He added: “Somebody said to me, ‘Who are going to be the biggest losers out of this?’ and I said, ‘The Chinese consumers.'”

Whoever is to blame, Australian vineyards are suffering. Even winemakers with no footprint in the China market are now facing a likely drop in domestic wine prices, as vintners flood the Australian market with product they can’t sell overseas.

At the same time, after a difficult 2020 wine harvest, Purbrick said that 2021 was shaping up to be a better harvest than usual, exacerbating problems with a glut of wine which Australian producers can’t export.

“I’m concerned across the whole industry … There’s no winners in a situation like that,” he said.

New markets

As some Australian winemakers look overseas for new markets, there are quiet concerns that if the China market goes for good, there simply isn’t anything that can replace it in terms of buying power.

Some vintners say that they are hopeful that India, with its rapidly growing economy and middle class, might be an option, while others said they are looking to develop more obscure markets like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

A new free trade deal with the United Kingdom in the wake of Brexit might also open up opportunities, if it leads to tariffs being reduced on Australian wines coming into Britain.

“The ability to do international travel to look for new markets  and buyers very hard at the moment and takes time and money,” he said. “It isn’t just a matter of, ‘Oh, we have all this stock, let’s ship it to America or Europe.'”

White said that he hoped that the dispute would be resolved within a year, but other vintners aren’t expecting a break anytime soon. “I think the reality is that we are probably facing a situation which is likely to be with us for years rather than months,” said Wine Australia’s Lee McLean.

Two wine importers in China who spoke anonymously, to protect their domestic business, said that the ban wouldn’t affect much of their business as Australian wine could be easily replaced by Chilean wine, which is also produced in the southern hemisphere.

Some winemakers in Australia were doubtful though, saying that while some varieties of Chilean wine may have a similar taste and price, those winemakers couldn’t replace the more high-end Australian labels, such as Penfolds. Even if the tariffs are eased relatively quickly, the episode is likely to reshape Australia’s wine industry into the future.

Whoever is to blame, Australian vineyards are suffering right now.

So with all that I plead that you support the local industry whatever the make up of the vineyard.

Your comments please.

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2020 Wine Spectator top 100 wines revealed

Each year since 1988, the influential and prestigious US Wine Spectator magazine has released its Top 100 list, where the editors select the most exciting wines from the more than 11,000 they reviewed during 2020. Its influence is substantial; many wines that feature highly in the list sell quickly in following months, often at increased prices.(The selection prioritises quality (based on score), value (based on price) and availability. These criteria are applied to the wines that rated outstanding (90 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale) to determine the Top 100 for the year.

For the third year in a row, a widely known European wine took top honours, with the 2010 Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial ($120.00) from Rioja taking up the mantle from the 2016 Léoville-Barton ($180.00) and 2015 Sassicaia ($325.00), the 2019 and 2018 victors.

I was pleased to see a number of wines from Dundee Hills and the Willamette Valley in Oregon featured as I reviewed these wines in a previous Blog when I visited in 2017.

But lets face it. All top wine lists are subjective. For instance Penfold’s Grange has been selected number one in previous lists but this year did not make the top 100. Instead its 2018 Bin 28 Kalimna shiraz ($40.00) came in at 41st. Another surprise was Central Otago’s 2018 Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir (75.00) at 14th.  This wine does not enter the NZ wine shows so no comparison can be made to other Central Otago pinot noirs.

Among the other Australasian  wines to win gongs were Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet, 46th ($39) and for Sauvginon Blanc drinkers, Marlborough’s 2020 Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc 23rd ($15.00) and 2019 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 73rd ($18.00).

Hold your hats!  Of all the Shiraz produced in Australia it was the Fowles 2018 Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch from the Strathbogie Ranges ($32.00) who scraped in at 97th position leaving Elderton and Henschke in its wake.

There are good quality bargains among this subjective lot to seek out. Enjoy and leave your comments.

 

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Heathcote wines reviewed

Now the lock down in Victoria Australia, is over, it is time to explore     the Heathcote wine region something I have not done for a few years. Over two and a half days I was surprised at what I discovered. It was the good, the bad and the ugly!

Lets go and I’ll tell you about each of the wineries with some snapshot reviews.

I stayed at the Heathcote Inn

Was clean but very basic. The restaurant serving wholesome pub food doubles as the bar and was noisy. Lines of local wine were on display facing the hot setting sun. At $130 a night it’s an in and out motel so you get what you pay for. Take your own breakfast. Fruit and granola available for $10 per head extra.

It is not a gourmet foodie destination. The Heathcote Inn, Palling Bros Brewery and Juniper Lounge all served big wholesome pub quality food. A trip to the internationally known Tooborac Hotel and Brewery was worth the trip to partake in its famous home made pies including a rabbit pie.

Wild Duck Creek
Hidden off the beaten track. Hosts Liam and Bryan were welcoming and cheerful giving an interesting family background. The 2019 Mallard Riesling was crisp, fresh but unremarkable and a drink now proposition. Best value was the 2018 Ducks and Drakes Cabernet.  Vivid red with a palate of blackberries and tobacco. $40. 90/100. The 2018 Springflat Shiraz was the pick of the lineup. Sourced from four sites it was dense in colour showing chocolate and rich dark fruits with nice acid to lift it. $65. 92/100. I did not try the 2018 Reserve at $130. Not a bad start to the weekend.

Munari Wines

There were 11 wines in the portfolio – far too many. Winemaker Adrian Munari, continuing a long family tradition was quick to point out that “I need a variety to suit all palates”. On tasting was an array of back vintages of which only 4 were current. Only the 2013 India Red Cabernet appealed. Was showing its age with herbal and leather overtones and a soft finish. $30. 87/100.  Of the most recent vintages the 2018 Merlot from grafted vines was light and short. Adrian admitted that it has been inconsistent and would not be made in future. $30. 86/100. Plenty of work to do here.

Vinea Marson

Mario Marson learnt his trade at St Huberts and Mt Mary and has accomplished 40 vintages in his career and now has set about establishing a vineyard of all Italian varieties. A difficult job when most people’s palate is more alined to King Valley Italian styles but of the 5 wines I looked at the 2017 Grazia, a blend of 59% Pinot Bianco, 20% Malvasia d’Istria, 16% Friulano & 5% Picolit was no doubt challenging to make. Pale straw in colour with a hint of green. The acid cut through and could have been identified as a Marsanne with butter and lemon overtones. $28. 92/100. The 2018 Rosato also got a gong. $28. 90/100. This was not the only vineyard in Heathcote that is trying to make regional Italian style. Why they are abandoning shiraz beats me. The Cambrian silky beckons. More about this later.

Tellurian

With a brand new expensive, spacious and spectacular cellar door (opened on 21 November) this was a highlight of the region visit. Certainly the 2 course  lunch at $35 was delightful and you must put this on your itinerary. The wines were classy too. The 2019 Fino, 2018 Marsanne and 2019 Viognier all rated 92/100. But it was the two Shiraz’s that stood out. The just released 2019 Pastiche Shiraz (14%) won the best shiraz at the Heathcote Wine Show in November  this year. The wine is well balanced with notes of plum, blackberries, pepper spice, oak, and a touch of eucalyptus. The tannins are soft and silky. The finish is long, medium dry, and has a persistent pepper spice. $28. 94/100. The 2017 Tranter Shiraz (14.5%) was another superb example of Heathcote Shiraz; excellent weight, bright red fruit and dark plum flavours with a silky mouthfeel supported by soft  tannins. $40. 95/100. At last polished Heathcote Shiraz at top value. Buy.

Domain Asmara

The 2019 Infinity Shiraz (15.8%) is a class act, purple red, ripe black fruit laced with nice oak treatment at $75. 93/100. Better value is the 2018 Reserve Cabernet which displayed a long soft and lingering finish. $21. 93/100. Thats a buy! Hosts and owners Henni and Andreas Grieving then showed two Durifs. The 2019 Private Reserve was rich but on the finish was very dry. $40. 88/100. However the 2018 Infinity Durif (17.4%) was big but not as robust as a Rutherglen style. Loved the huge fruit explosion on the palate. $75. 95/100. Contract made but one of the unheralded excellent wineries in the region providing quality fruit.

Sanguine

Wine maker Mark Hunter provided a tutorial tasting of six wines starting with 2019 Rose $20. 88/100 but better wines followed. A new release 2019 Cabernet Bordeaux blend of 75% cabernet sauvignon, 15% cabernet franc and 10% merlot. Hand-picked, it is a medium bodied wine with a long finish and aftertaste full of fruit. One for Cabernet lovers at $25. 94/100. Buy. The 2017 D’Orsa Shiraz spent 18 months in oak (70% new). Hopefully over the next 5+ years the oak will cease fire, leaving a medium-bodied shiraz with fruit, oak and tannins in balance. $70. 94/100. The 2018 Inception Shiraz shares the deep colour with D’Orsa,  extended maceration of 18 months in French oak (30% new). Just released it is nicely balanced with oak and long full palate with hints of pepper lingering. $40. Finally the 2019 Progeny Shiraz with plenty of show gongs spent only 9 months in French oak in an attempt to be approachable as a young wine and so can be enjoyed now. $25. 90/100. Beware the other shiraz’s have a drinking distance of up to 20 plus years! Great wines and typical fine Heathcote rich style.

 Jasper Hill

Emily McNally (nee Laughton) was most generous. Her name sake top of the range shiraz is available only one bottle per person $108. But 2019 Georgia’s Paddock showed good spectrum colour, cherry berry ripe fruits, and prominent oak and tannins. Good for 15 years. $82. 95/100. But they also make 2018 Occam’s Shiraz. This is a smooth, silky smokey expression with deep raspberry vanilla, plum, blueberry and a great bargain at $46. 92/100. The tasting finished with a line up of 2006 each of Nebbiolo, Georgia’s and Emily Paddocks. The 2006 Nebbiolo was a revelation with deep colour, full through the palate holding nicely together. If you have this you are privileged. I thought the Georgia’s was past so drink now and Emily’s was still going forward. A nice comparison of  the best of the 2006 vintage. Sanguine and Tellurian may not have the high regard and sought after reputation as Jasper Hill but are in the same league!

 Heathcote Winery

Denise and Steve Williams were on the job here and a tasting of eight wines (10 available) between four designated ranges were presented. Too many wines – two many ranges. In the Euro range the 2020 Vermentino – grapes from McIvor Estate – was light, limey, hints of green apples and with plenty of long flavour. $27. 92/100. This variety originally grown in Italy’s Liguria region and the islands of Sardinia and Corsica is steadily growing in popularity here and is an ideal summer drink. In the Premium range the iconic reliable 2019 Mail Coach Shiraz (14.2%) now in its 30th vintage showed the new French oak up front. Needs time. $32. 92/100. In the Single Vineyard range 2018 Slaughterhouse Paddock Shiraz had loads of oak up front with eucalyptus and mint dominating. $50.86/100. The Wilkins Shiraz $105, in the Super Premium range was not tried.

 Meehan Vineyard

Planted in 2005 as a family dream, but winemaker Phil Meehan sadly passed away in August 2018 leaving wife Judy and her daughter to struggle on. Condie Wines has now taken over the lease and Judy was only too delighted to chat and show what she had available for sale; vintages from 2014 to 2017. The 2016 Tempranillo was chewy and rich. $30. 90/100. Judy then kindly presented a vertical tasting of 2014, 15 and 16 Shiraz’s. 2014 was deep red in colour was full in length, nice chocolate and fruit up front and long on the palate. $60. 94/100. The 2015 finished short, stalky and a very dry finish. $55. 87/100. Finally 2016 while dry up front was sweet and juicy, not a true Shiraz style though. $55. 90/100. None had hints of pepper on the nose.

Condie Vineyard

Richie Condie is on the expansion trail with the lease of Meehan, Wanted Man vineyard 4 kms away and also has a property at Wild Duck Creek so sourcing grapes should not be a problem moving forward. Five wines were presented. The 2018 Giarracco Sangiovese matured in used three year old oak barrels and while a little sour had sweet raspberries coming through, was high in acid and finished full of subtle flavours. $30. 91/100. The 2017 Gwen Shiraz (14%) was the pick of two Shiraz’s. From two blocks it has dark fruits, with black berry, plum and spice overtones. A little stringent. $30. 90/100. I could not resist buying a Richie experiment of a 2018 Sangiovese Rose clean skin. At $15 a bargain. Clean with a long balanced palate. Move quick on this.

McIvor Estate

Another winery on the move, changing hands. It has just been purchased by Chinese interests with one partner from Sydney and the other an Adelaide Chinese exporter. Not sure they had counted on the up to 200% China import duty impost in mind. Four Italian varieties out of nine on show and once again all were back vintages on sale and tasting. Host Max Poyser was keen to talk up the quality but overall a disappointing lineup. The pick of an average lot was the 2014 Estate Merlot. Dry, a medium bodied wine with moderate acidity, with blackberries, cherries, plums, and cocoa overtones. $35. 90/100. Max was happy to discount all the wines in an effort to move them on. It will be interesting to see if this winery continues to make wine

Summary

With a few exceptions the face of Heathcote Shiraz on its dark Cambrian soils left me flat. In the reviews above it is easy to assess where the back bone of the region can be found. Certainly some good value abounds but the Italian varieties need more time and development to give the region a new focus and identity. If thats what they want.

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