Australia tastings: my highlights from Off the Vine, Out of the Box & The Dirty Dozen
Shaking it up, Wine Australia’s Off the Vine tasting showcased emerging talent and wine styles to great effect last week, as did two importer-led tastings – The Dirty Dozen & Out of the Box. I made some cracking new discoveries, including Jayden & Morgan Ong’s One Block (Yarra Valley) and Geyer Wines (Barossa).
I wrote up my pick of the new wave Grenaches from Off the Vine in last Friday’s post. Today, I share with you 50 other highlights from a week of rich pickings. Here are my notes:
An Approach to Relaxation ‘Nichon’ Vine Vale Semillon 2017 (Vine Vale, Barossa Valley)
This was one of my wines of the tasting. Chateau Tanunda Old Vine Semillon, also from the Vine Vale sub-region, introduced me to the giddy heights of which this subtle variety is capable in the Barossa. Check out this report of a 2012-2015 Chateau Tanunda Old Vine Semillon vertical. Made by former sommeliers Richard Betts MS and Carla Rza Betts, Nichon was inspired by their love of textural, old Haut Brion Blanc, Kalin Cellars, Chateau Musar and Fiorano. It is a blend of 90% Semillon (dry-grown, own-rooted, organically farmed 65-year-old vines on sandy soils) and 10% Sauvignon Blanc (25-years-old). The wine was basket pressed and barrel fermented in old French oak, where it spends 12 months aging on gross lees before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Doubtless, the texture will come with age, because age this wine will and, I suspect rather splendidly. For now, I found its old vine purity and mineral intensity striking. It is very pale, very limpid, with (attractive) mountain pond/mountain air nuances – very subtly sweet (the air) and vegetal (the pond). Refreshing for sure. The Sauvignon adds lift to the tail without detracting from its older and better, the Semillon. A very still wine, which you want to mull over and roll around in the mouth. Just 140 cases made. 12.2%
One Block ‘Chestnut Hill’ Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (Port Phillip)
Au contraire, Jayden Ong (pictured) co-founder of One Block in 2010 focuses on Sauvignon Blanc for this wine. I’d not encountered the winemaker or his wines before but wow, his Yarra Valley Syrahs impressed me deeply, while this Sauvignon walks another way. It’s not your average New World Sauvignon Blanc. Rather, it put me in mind of the Loire with its flinty, curry powder riff (bash a couple of silex stones together and see what you get). It has a texture and wildness that speaks of natural barrel ferment on full solids and 10 days’ skin contact, neither techniques dominating, which makes for a harmonious palate, the acid at a clip, yet integrated. Aged for 10 months in a mixture of old barrels and 1200l foudre, this Sauvignon is not about the fruit. In fact my notes don’t even mention fruit. Though they do say “green” – for me is the colour of Sauvignon. Seamless.
P.S. Since Wine Australia’s Off the Vine tasting, One Block have been listed by Lea & Sandeman. And Mr Ong filled me in on some technical details about this wine. The north-east-facing, dry-grown vineyard was planted in 1997 on grey clay loam at c. 260m asl. This was its first full season of organic farming. The fruit was handpicked and sorted, the majority whole bunch pressed straight to barrel with full solids for a natural ferment with about 6% destemmed; carbonic maceration for 10 days. Bottled February 2018.
One Block ‘One Block ‘Yellingbo’’ Syrah 2017 (Yarra Valley)
How the olfactory bulb blossoms – leaping to attention, bloodhound style – to capture both essence, rasp and layer of this super-savoury (100%) Syrah. Entrancing white pepper (great intensity) and exotic orange peel (more nuanced) add lift to its juicily persistent blackberry and earthier, meatier undertones. I loved its rasp of tannins, the stems present, but not sacrificing the fruit or fluidity of this agile wine. Most definitely the right side of feral! The Syrah (clone PT23) is sourced from the Tibooburra vineyard in Yellingbo in the Upper Yarra Valley, from which Luke Lambert also takes fruit. At 240m above sea level, Tibooburra vineyard is quite high for the Yarra, but nothing like as high as the vineyard Ong has planted at 700m above Timo Mayer’s Bloody Hill vineyard – bloody, bloody hill?!? I can’t wait to see what he does there, but I’ll have to be patient…he only bought the land in 2015. The low yielding block which produced this Syrah was planted in 2001 on a southwest aspect and comes from an atypical band of deep black soil (most likely of volcanic origin) at the mid-top part of the vineyard. The hand picked and hand sorted Syrah was naturally fermented in different batches. One with 55% whole bunches, which underwent carbonic maceration. For the balance, Ong retained as many whole berries as possible. After around 35 days on skins, the wine was pressed directly to 500l Francois Freres’ puncheons (20% new), where it aged (unsulphured) for 12 months in barrel.
One Block ‘La Maison de Ong ‘Dark Moon’’ Syrah 2015 (Yarra Valley)
Whilst ‘One Block ‘Yellingbo’’ Syrah would appeal to lovers of St Joseph, flashier but with substance, I reckon Dark Moon is for lovers of modern styles of Côte Rotie. I’m not sure about vineyard sourcing, but it was made from 100% Syrah (clones PT23 & BVRC12) and naturally fermented with 100% whole bunches in a tightly covered open fermenter. With no working of bunches, it underwent carbonic maceration. Pressed after 40 days on skins, it spent 14 months (unsulphured) in a mix of new 500l Francois Freres puncheons (40%), one year old puncheons and old barriques. Bottled unfined & unfiltered, with 40ppm sulphur. It is a denser, concentrated wine, its black and blue berry and blackcurrant fruit pure and plush, with leavening savoury bacon, violets, clove, star anise and cedar inflections. Purring tannins – a constant – ruffle the cloak of fruit. Sumptuous, but a sleeper – most definitely one to stash a way.
Lethbridge Dr Nadeson Riesling 2017 (Victoria)
According to the tasting sheet for this wine, it is sourced from the Anakie & Merkel vineyards, in Geelong and King valley respectively. But the good doctor (Ray Nadeson) told me it was from Drumborg in Henty and schist (soil) was mentioned. Whilst its origins may be uncertain, it is very much a Nadeson wine, by which I mean highly individual. It reveals exotic orange peel and sweet mandarin, speared with fresh cut apple, which judiciously balances the residual sugar (c. 11g/l) and runs away with a long, lingering, refreshing finish. It was fermented and aged in 2500l foudres with no temperature control. 12% RRP £22.99
Lethbridge Geelong Chardonnay 2017 (Geelong)
Mostly sourced from the Suma Park vineyard, which is located on a limestone outcrop overlooking Swan Bay, with a small portion from the Yan Yan Gurt vineyard on the “fantastically cold” western side of Geelong. Its predominantly coastal origins are readily apparent from a briny, quite funky nose. In the mouth it shows sweet ripe lemon and lemon peel, with plenty of mouthfeel and intensity, but good underlying acidity. The hand-picked fruit was whole bunch pressed into 100% new French oak puncheons for fermentation and (100%) MLF by indigenous yeast on full solids. The wine components were then matured in one year old French oak barrels on gross lees for a further 11 months prior to blending and bottling. 12.5% RRP £30.99
Lethbridge Allegra Geelong Chardonnay 2010 (Geelong)
This single vineyard Chardonnay, also from Geelong, hails from the Rebenberg vineyard’s low yielding vines (planted 1968), Mount Duneed, on gravel and quartz soils. With eight years’ bottle age, it retains immense power and intensity, grip even, on a super savoury/mineral sucking stones’ palate. A real tongue twister, it sets out to tickle each and every taste bud and succeeds. Long and textural in the mouth, this wine’s dynamic acid and phenolic structure underscores an unusual combination of zest and heft to its citrus and stone fruit. Impressive. The fruit was whole bunch pressed and run into 100% new French oak puncheons (450-500L) without prior clarification. Fermentation occurred with indigenous yeast. Following the end of fermentation, malolactic fermentation occurred in barrel with natural yeasts. Wines were left in barrel on gross lees for a further 15 months prior to marriage and bottling. 13.5% RRP £44.99
Between Five Bells Pinot Noir 2017 (Strathbogie)
Varietal uncertainty hovers over this wine. Sourced from the granitic soils of the Costanza Vineyard, Strathbogie, Nadeson reckons the grape is Gamay and not, as the grower maintains, Pinot Noir. At any rate, the winemaker treats it like Gamay, whole bunch fermenting it with a true carbonic maceration in closed stainless steel vat. It makes for a pronounced florality (wild peony) and lightness of touch to its fresh-picked, sweet red cherry and berry fruit and gentle tannin structure – cartilage, not bone? Perfumed, very drinkable. 14% RRP £19.99
Timo Mayer Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2017 (Yarra Valley)
Mayer showcased three single varietal 100% whole bunch wines (and also makes 100% whole bunch Syrah and Gamay). Whilst, on the face of it, a 100% whole bunch regime seems risky, Meyer pulls it off with aplomb. His secret? Long, slow, cool ferments (“like putting a tea bag in cold water,” he said when discussing the Cabernet, for which he does “bugger all” treading – just around a third of the berries). Grapes for this Pinot Noir comes from Mayer’s steep Bloody Hill vineyard, at 200m at the base of Mount Toolebewoong, south of Healesville. The soil is shallow gravel interspersed with broken sandstone over rock. Timo Mayer Bloody Hill Pinot Noir is picked earlier and de-stemmed. For this whole bunch Pinot, once the carbonic maceration starts, he crushes the grapes for colour and tannins; it was aged for 11 months in French hogsheads on lees. This is a pale Pinot with perky, savoury lift (mortadella/polony) and subtle dried herb and spice nuances to its red cherry and berry fruited nose and palate. Gently mouthcoating tannins and ripe but present acidity make for nice mouthfeel and length. Savoury and coolly fruity all the way through – nothing overly here, not even the whole bunch (!)– lovely balance. 13% RRP £51
Timo Mayer Yarra Valley Nebbiolo 2017 (Yarra Valley)
Mayer told me he likes his Nebbiolo dry and savoury, so crushes all the berries. I pick up a more overt whole bunch character here, but it’s pretty lavender, so not in the least green or aggressive. And while we’re on the flowers, this has Nebbiolo tick box dried rose notes – lifted, yet deep-seated and intense. Returning (as Nebbiolo does) to the tannins, they are savoury and in this sense dry, but also soft – of the wet cement variety (a great Steve Pannell phrase for Nebbiolo tannin texture and taste). Adding to the ‘s’s (did you see what I just did…), those tannins are sneaky too, rising on the finish. A a slow burn Nebbiolo. Like it. 12.5% RRP £51
Timo Mayer Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (Yarra Valley)
Yarra Yering’s founder Bailey Carrodus was a fan of whole bunch Cabernet, albeit he de-stemmed the bunches then added stalks back into the ferment in infusion cylinders – a technique still used by Sarah Crowe at Yarra Yering and which her predecessor, Paul Bridgeman, took to Levantine Hill. So fermenting Cab on stalks is nothing new in the Yarra, where the tannins are famously soft. But I reckon going 100% whole bunch is novel. Is the wine a novelty? As much as anything, going 100% whole bunch means open ferments and this wine has a touch of volatile acidity, which makes for a certain slipperiness and lift to the juicy blackberry and mulberry fruit. A touch of rusticity even. This is not your sleek Cab with a sheen of blackcurrant and cassis and polished tannins. The whole bunch puts an accent on sweet, dried herbs, which I like in Cabernet. It won’t be for everyone, but I suspect Mayer’s constituency know what to expect and cherish his different take. Medium-bodied and approachable, with textural tannins, it has lots of gastronomic appeal. 12% £51
Ochota Barrels The Slint Chardonnay 2017 (Adelaide Hills)
From a rocky vineyard at 550m with quartz and limestone. Having spent two days on skins, this taut, firm Chardonnay has nutty textural interest – phenolic rather than oak-driven 9or so it seemed to me). Finishes distinctly dry and mineral with a touch of vegetal (mountain pond) funk. 12.4% RRP £32.50
Ochota Barrels Kids of the Black Hole Riesling 2017 (Adelaide Hills)
Fruit is sourced from a 25 year old one acre vineyard planted on an ironstone infused peak in Macclesfield, in the southern half of the hills. Basket pressed with full solids to stainless steel and naturally fermented. No malo. Un-fined. Fresh though it is, with a racy undercurrent of acidity, this is a textural Riesling too. Naturally fermented on full solids (with a splash of Gewürztraminer as well as Riesling lees), this is a textural Riesling with savoury (slimline) bacon fat and orange pith’n peel aromatic nuances. It finishes on an oxidative, mineral tang – the ironstone I guess. Cut lip, said Ochota. 12.1% RRP £32.50
Ochota Barrels ‘Texture like Sun’ 2017 (Adelaide Hills)
This idiosyncratic red (it’s not golden brown) is a blend of Pinot Noir, Grenache, Gamay, Mourvèdre Pinot Meunier, Gewurtztraminer, Fragola, Riesling, Chardonnay A right old mash up, but Ochota’s mash up showcases his terrific blending skills and willingness to push boundaries in pursuit of pleasure – “I just want something delicious,” he said. A talcy, floral nose with exotic rose petal leads onto a perfumed, powdery palate with plenty of juicy drinkability; the red grapes bring soft red berry fruits and an Aperol inflection to the party, with a lick of tannin, gently bitter orange peel and vermouth notes. 12.1% £28.50
Ochota Barrels ‘The Green Room’ McLaren Vale Grenache Syrah 2017 (McLaren Vale)
You can read my earlier note on Ochota Barrels ‘Fugazi’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2017 here. The Green Room includes an ever-decreasing splash of Syrah – in 2017, just 8%, versus 12% in 2014. For Ochota, the Syrah “builds depth, masculinity and colour”. Grapes are sourced in three staggered picks from vines planted in 1947 on red loamy clay with ironstone over deep limestone. They were cold soaked for four days (85% whole bunch) until fermentation occurred spontaneously. The juice spent 6-88 days on skins with frequent pigeage. After the ferment ceased, it was basket pressed to neutral barrels for 2 months of aging. Bottled unfined and unfiltered with, like all his wines, minimal SO2. An exotic, very perfumed turkish delight nose leads onto a slinky palate, with lively, crunchy red cherry and currant and juicier blood plum. A savoury rub of pine needle/resin, dried herbs and sandy, mineral tannins lends depth and layer. Long and persistent, the fruit lithe and luminous. 12.2%
Frederick Stevenson ‘Dry Red’ 2018 (Vine Vale, Barossa Valley)
Sourced from the Ahrens vineyard on sand over clay, which is biodynamically cultivated and contributed the major portion of fruit to the straight ‘Vine Vale Grenache’ which I wrote up last Friday here. this is a blend of 46% Cinsault, 36% Shiraz, 11% Grenache & 7% Mourvedre. Stevenson is a fan of early picking – “I like rhubarb,” he said and this recently bottled red delivers freshness and fragrance in abundance – gorgeous spice lift and lively, al dente redcurrant and plum fruit. Zingy. 12.6% £24.00
Frederick Stevenson ‘Syrah & Friends’ 2017 (Vine Vale, Barossa Valley)
The Syrah comes from the Ahrens vineyard and comprises 94% of the blend. The balance – the friends – comprise the juicy skins left over from light pressings of Frederick Stevenson Marsanne and Rousanne. This is a super savoury, but nimble and perky red, with inky florals, Old Spice/Imperial Leather musky, earthy spices, charcuterie and exotic riffs of orange peel and lychee. Loved its spiciness. 13.5% RRP £33
Delinquente Wine Co ‘Screaming Betty’ Vermentino 2018 (Riverland)
I discovered Con-Greg Grigoriou’s wines at Artisans of Australia tasting in 2016 and, to his great credit, the former advertising man’s modern, premium, single vineyard focused approach on the Riverland has paid dividends. The previous vintage was one of my July Wines of the Month and got a big thumbs up from Ronan Sayburn, Master Sommelier. In demand, after five years, Grigoriou’s production has mushroomed from 650 cases (dozens) to 5000 cases. Quite the success story. I’m looking forward to presenting this wine in a line up of innovative, premium Riverland wines at Decanter Fine Wine Encounter on 4 November. Details here. It is fresh and saline and, in this warmer year, shows pineapple chunks as well as more savoury, textural roasted lime. Great varietal character, nice mouthfeel and complexity and, with just 10.5%, shows how well this variety is suited to the Riverland’s sunny, dry climate. £15.50
Delinquente Wine Co ‘The Bullet Dodger’ Riverland Montepulciano 2018 (Riverland)
Savoury with subtle chew and sourness, which makes for a spiralling palate, propelling the liquorice-inflected juicy blackberry and plum fruit merrily along. 13.0% RRP £15.50
Castagna ‘Un Segreto’ Sangiovese Syrah 2015 (Beechworth)
Plenty going on here, with peppery Syrah lift, sour Sangiovese thrust and a creamy yet markedly fresh arc of juicy fruit – bilberry (with its perfume and notion of tannin) and blackberry. Deep reserves, but this is an agile wine, with a long throw. Very broachable now, but lots to give. 13.5% RRP £67.99
Castagna ‘Growers Selection ‘Harlequin’’ Chardonnay Savagnin Riesling Roussanne-Viognier 2016 (Beechworth/ King Valley)
I first tasted this wine (the 2013 vintage) during a visit with Castagna in March 2016. I liked it very much – plenty of push (fruit) and pull (tannin) on a dynamic palate, thanks to a month or so on skins. Refreshing tannin (think tea) and acid both, which was most welcome on a sweltering, sun-bleached day. Too hot to walk the vineyards. So it’s interesting to taste this vintage from a very early year. It has lovely intensity with drinkability – aromatised orange – peel, fruit and pith and a sandy texture. That push and pull again in full swing, which ratchets up intensity, whilst pulling in the fruit – skin contact corsetry well deployed. Mouthwatering, very delicious. 13.5% £33.99
Castagna Dry Vermouth (Beechworth)
Julian Castagna showed two Vermouths – this example, which blew me away in 2016, and a lighter white pepper-laced Branco Vermouth. The Dry Vermouth is my pick – a really compelling Aussie take on the genre. It has lashings of complex dried herb and spice bitters but the spirit and the underlying fruit (juicy and aromatic) is of such high quality that you have a perfectly judged interplay of the two. Compelling.
Jauma ‘Sand on Schist’ Chenin Blanc 2017 (Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale)
During my visits to the Loire – Chenin Blanc’s spiritual home – the variety was made every which way, except fortified. The 1940s’ vines from which James Erskine coaxes this crystalline, bone dry, mineral example was originally planted to make white ‘Port.’ He told me the variety was believed to have been Furmint back in the day. I’m glad the winemaker has re-purposed it to showcase Blewitt Springs’ distinctive terroir – elevated, this vineyard on deep (3-5m) white beach sand interspersed with schist and quartz over heavy water holding clay. It’s tensile, with lively, super-focused acidity, mineral intensity and nutty inflections. Pale and most interesting. 11.5% POA
Charlotte Dalton Wines ‘Love you love me’ Semillon 2017 (Adelaide Hills)
I preferred this to her oerkeengel cuvee which, though vibrant and limier, was a tad oaky for me (but give it time?) This more limpid expression has a twist of fresh lime and subtle undertones of savoury roast lime, with lemon pip twang and bite to the finish. Fermented in barrel on full solids and spent extended time on lees. 11.6% RRP AUS$35
Cooke Brothers Wines ‘Fox Valley Vineyard’ Chardonnay 2017 (Adelaide Hills)
Ben Cooke is the full-time winer in this band of brothers. This comes from a small high density vineyard in Heathfield planted in 1984 to clone I10V1. The grapes were handpicked on 15th March and whole bunch pressed straight to older French oak barriques. The naturally fermented wine spent 9 months on lees with regular stirring. Taut and arrestingly cool with G & T minerality, a twist of lime and hint of bay leaf. 11.5% RRP $38.00
BK Wines Yellow Wine Blue Skies Flor Savagnin 2015 (Adelaide Hills)
Readers will have noticed I’m a fan of Crittenden Estate’s Crie de Couer Savagnin, which is aged sous voile – under flor – which technique creates the Jura’s famous Vins Jaunes Savagnins. Brendon Keys’ Skin n Bones White – a punchy, pungent Savagnin – demonstrates how well this grape retains acid line and structure in the hills. So unsurprisingly, ageing it sous voile (for three years, I believe) works a treat. It is nutty, salty and intense, with green apple and grapefruit drive. Great ricochet of flavours, line and length. Sold in a cute 500ml wax capped bottle. 12.8% POA
BK Wines One Ball Chardonnay 2017 (Adelaide Hills)
Sourced from Kenton Valley, this Chardonnay was naturally fermented and aged for 10 months in French oak (10% new), with 9 months’ bâttonage. It is fresh, tight and flinty, with a lick of salt and well-judged lightly creamy savoury lees, which makes for approachability without compromising line or length. Bang on for a lipsmacking drinking now, whilst Swaby Chardonnay from a more elevated (600m) Piccadilly vineyard needs time to reveal of itself. 13%
Ministry of Clouds Chardonnay 2017 (Tasmania)
Made on the island, this Chardonnay is a blend of Coal River Valley and Derwent Valley fruit, the former coming from the Tolpuddle vineyard whose slatey Riesling-like Chardonnays I adore. The palate is indeed slatey – very fresh and juicy, with white peach and citrus bite. Lovely line and length. 12.5% POA
Ministry of Clouds Shiraz 2017 (McLaren Vale)
This distinctly contemporary Shiraz is inky and floral with bright, well-defined red and black berry fruit and a lovely ruffle of tannin. It is sourced from a dry grown Blewitt Springs deep sandy vineyard, and a younger parcel from Ministry of Clouds’ site on shallow old rocks in Seaview. 13.8% POA
Ministry of Clouds Tempranillo Grenache 2017 (McLaren Vale)
This is Ministry of Clouds’ biggest seller and I can understand why. It really majors on drinkability (apologies for using that word, but what I mean is the wine has an approachability whist remaining refreshing). With a high percentage of whole berries and 4 day cold soak, the 90 year old vine Grenache component (30% of the blend) underwent carbonic maceration for 3 weeks, then an extended maceration on skins for 12 weeks. Both parcels were then basket pressed to old French oak barriques for 12 months of aging and bottled with a light fining and no filtration. The carbonic maceration provides a bouncy skip in the step of this juicy wine with its blood plum and red and black berry spice-laced fruit. Slow burn tannins lend light grip and direction. Lots to like here. Vivacious. 13.8% POA
Ministry of Clouds ‘Kintsugi’ 2015 (McLaren Vale)
A blend of Grenache, Mataro and Shiraz with a splash of Cinsault. Fermented separately, the wines were basket pressed to 100% old French oak and matured for 10 months, then blended and given a further 6 months barrel aging to marry. It’s a fine marriage, with lifted (Mourvedre) saddle soap/leather, dried herbs (the fine filigree lift of Cinsault, with its edge of dried tobacco) and svelte sweet red cherry and plum. Polished but with interest and lovely persistence. 14.2% POA
Koerner Wine Riesling 2017 (Watervale Clare Valley)
Some 40 years ago, Damon Koerner’s parents acquired the family vineyard – Gullyview – in Watervale, Clare. Located on classic red loam over limestone, it sits at 350-400m. The family sold the fruit until Damon and his brother Jonathan started to make wine under the Koerner label in 2014. Some fruit is acquired from neighbours and contributes to a range which stands out for not featuring the usual suspects. Even this Clare Valley stalwart – Riesling – is unconventional. It was hand picked over 2 days, a week apart. Half the fruit was pressed straight away, the other half received 24 hours of skin contact. All juice was cold settled for a few days and prior to being naturally fermented on lees in a mix of ceramic eggs, stainless steel tanks and barriques for around three weeks (it also underwent malolactic fermentation). The wine was racked off ferment and lees and then spent 5 months on fine lees in stainless steel. Prior to bottling a small sulphur addition was made, the wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered. More texture and breadth are the inevitable outcomes of this process – a softness around the edges. But it retains a good thrust of acid to a its citrus/citrus pith accented palate. 12.0% £22.75
Koerner Wine ‘Pigato’ Vermentino 2018 (Clare Valley)
This was my pick of the Vermentinos (the other one labelled Rolle was aged in a new foudre and shows a bit too much ‘blunting’ oak for me, though expect this to diminish with age and future vintages) and the range. The unoaked version (which spent 3 weeks on skins) has terrific vivacity, with fennel, orange and lemon peel notes aplenty – pretty and very persistent. 11.0% £24.50
Byrne Wines ‘Coghills Creek’ Chardonnay 2017 (Ballarat, Victoria)
Ray Nadeson pointed me in the direction of Alex Byrne, a protegee. Like his former boss, Bryne shows a love of fruit and body – qualities which sometimes seemed thoroughly frowned upon. Ironically, the natural wine movement reminded me how much I like fruit (much as I‘d say I am particularly drawn to freshness and minerality). I suspect this body can be partially attributed to volcanic soils. Byrne’s Coghills Creek wines come from the Myola Vineyard, 25kms north of Ballarat, on the edge of the Great Dividing Range. Located at 450m elevation, deep volcanic soils and good rainfall underwrite this cool climate site, providing impressive acid structure. This Chardonnay has rich, ripe cashew nut-edged white peach, with zesty lime. Firm acidity teases out a long finish and provide the basis for ageing. 13.0% $38.00
Architects of Wine Pinot Noir 2017 (Adelaide Hills)
Owner/winemaker David is an architect. I like his thoughtfully constructed, light touch wines. This Pinot Noir comes from a vineyard in Summertown, in the Piccadilly Valley at 570m above sea level. It was fermented in three batches – 100% destemmed, 100% whole bunch and 100% carbonic maceration. Each batch was aged separately in old barriques before blending just prior to bottling, with low sulphur. It is very pale, almost rosé-like really, a mite cloudy and very pretty in the mouth, with fresh, very al dente red cherry and cranberry. Delicate, yet with a firmness (more acid and fruit than tannin; it flows well) that belies its hue. 11.9%
Architects of Wine Nebbiolo 2017 (Adelaide Hills)
Paler, but a touch darker than the Pinot, as you’d expect this Nebbiolo is drier and firmer than the Pinot. Given I’d describe the Pinot as dry and firm, might suggest unforgiving. But it is not. Like the Pinot, it seems to have accumulated flavour without weight (how nice would that be as humans!). Mineral, with a snappy granitic quality to it and very subtle but intense and attractive orange peel, pine needle and coltsfoot spice. The fruit is sourced from 2 vineyards, in Kersbrook (warmer) and Uraidla. The grapes were 100% destemmed and each batch was open fermented, then left on skins for almost a month, before ageing in old French hogsheads and barriques. The two batches were blended just prior to bottling. 12%
La Violetta U Rock Dots 2017 (Mount Barker)
Sourced mainly from 30 year old+ dry grown Gewürztraminer vines near Mt Barker and co-fermented with Porongurup Riesling and a little Grauburgunder. Hand picked and long, slow, whole bunch pressed, the juice went straight to old oak with no SO2, settled overnight without chilling, then was racked into old Vosges barrels, retaining some juice solids. The wine was aged on lees for several months before filtration and bottling. The palate is dry, but juicy and round, with a lick of lavender, rose petal, cinnamon and clove. Complex and enjoyable – very true to Andrew Hoadley’s big hearted style.
La Violetta Up! Shiraz 2014 (Great Southern)
I’ve reviewed this before and it was in great super savoury form – meaty, earthy, peppery and floral with a spicy backbone to its dark berry and plum fruit. A little unreconstructed and wild in a good way, with riffs (and whiffs?!?) aplenty. Chocks away. Yum.
Geyer Wines Semillon 2017 (Barossa)
Another pick of the bunch, also an old vine Barossa Semillon, was my introduction not only to Geyer Wines but also their recently established UK importer/online retailer, Nekter Wines. Established by Jonothan Davey, a management consultant, the focus in on wines frim 15 producers in Australia, California and Chile who produce minimal intervention wines which are true to terroir (and clean, emphasised Davey). I found those wines I tasted to have a lightness of touch; well worth seeking out and, I suspect, the clean criteria will turn a few sceptics on to so-called natural wines. This Semillon is dry, firm and zesty with lovely purity to its grapefruity palate and rapier focus. Great energy, precision and lemony, sucking lemons persistence. The grapes were sourced from three vineyards, aged from 90-100 years old (two in the Barossa Valley, one in Eden Valley). One batch was 50% whole bunch fermented/50% half destemmed and fermented on skins for two weeks “semi-carbonically” until dry. The other batch was pressed and fermented to dryness in stainless steel. Both ferments were then blended and aged in a 1950’s foudre for six months. 11% alcohol.
Geyer Wines Cabernet Franc 2017 (Barossa)
Cabernet Franc is not the easiest variety to fly solo. Outside the Loire, it’s hard to attain the delicacy and perfume which can be so entrancing. Without kow towing to the Loire, David Geyer nails this one. Whilst a Loire equivalent might have graphite and a touch of green, this riper, softer style has a lingering cedary fragrance to its raspberry and blackberry fruit. Grainy, textural, lightly spicy tannins – an usher – gently support the fruit, reinforcing this wine’s gentle, light touch frame. With consummate balance, it is elegant of delivery. Quite a triumph to retain that detail and delicacy with no added sulphur; persistence too. It was sourced from Sellicks Hill. 50% was fermented like a rosé (aha, the delicacy!) and 50% fermented for 10 days on skins in old barrels.
Vigneron Schmolzer Brown Obstgarten Riesling 2017 (King Valley)
I met Tessa Brown, winemaker and viticulturist & her architect partner Jeremy Schmölzer in 2016, when I visited Beechworth. Their young vineyard in Thorley hadn’t yet come onstream but they were sourcing fruit from elsewhere and I liked what I tasted and heard. This Riesling comes from the Whitlands area of the King Valley, which is located at high altitude and produces some cracking wines. This Riesling is no exception. It’s a Kabinett style, with evident sweetness to balance its raper-like acidity. Shoots long and fine and scores, with crisp applely fruit, pretty lime blossom and a mineral tang in the back of the net! Mouthwatering, very racy.
Vigneron Schmolzer Brown Brunnen Pinot Noir 2016 (Beechworth)
Pale with creamy strawberry fruit, nicely supported by savoury, fine, chamois tannins. Surprisingly full in the mouth given its hue, it is from a warm year and spent fifteen months in barrel, one new in six. Lingering intensity.
From Sundays Wine The Beast Verdelho 2017 (Hunter Valley)
From Sunday Winemakers is a collective of viticulturists, winemakers and sommeliers from Australia. This Verdelho is made by Oakvale’s James Becker. I met the young gun when I was judging at the Hunter Show in 2015. Fruit for The Beast is hand harvested from organic, sandy loam soils of the Ablington Vineyard at 110m elevation in the Hunter Valley. The grapes were destemmed, basket pressed and wild fermented in a 1 tonne open top fermenter for 10 days on skins. The wine was then transferred to concrete egg for 3 months. Each egg was then raised by forklift and the resulting wine gravity run to bottle. Unfiltered, unfined and no added SO2; just 888 bottles produced. The skin contact makes a for a distinctly chewy white, really textural, with kumquat and orange peel favours. It’s a little one note at the moment but, with very persistent acidity, I think it will open up nicely in the glass.
Rock of Wisdom Superfly Shiraz 2017 (Barossa)
Pete & Sofi Hiscock are the couple behind this brand launched in 2014. Sourced from the Northern Barossa the Shiraz was open fermented with gentle pumpovers, then mostly aged for 6 months in tank with a small portion seeing old French oak. The oak lends a savoury bacon note and lick of tannin to this wines soft, yielding palate of plum, black and red berry fruit. Chocolatey loam notes tick more Barossa boxes flavourwise but, in terms of mouthfeel and weight this immensely smooth, likeable wine, has an unusual levity about it. Well played.
Rock of Wisdom Mataro 2016 (Barossa)
Single varietal expressions of Mataro a.k.a. Mourvedre seem to be on the up. This example is naturally fermented warm and long to extract deep dark fruits. It was aged for 12 months in old French oak. Plenty of trusty Mataro saddle soap and leather here – both in perfume and flavour. A little edgy and wild but also friendly, with a softness and levity like the Shiraz.
Vinterloper Odeon Riesling 2016 (Watervale, Clare Valley)
Sourced from a single vineyard at 440m. It was made with no additions and naturally fermented and then aged for around 10 months in old French oak barrels. It’s dry, with lots of texture and crisp, linear acidity. As it opens up in the glass, orange, orange peel and spice (clove in particular) notes emerge. – really creep up on you. Ensnares the taste buds. V good. 12.7%
Vinterloper If Life Gives You Lagrein 2017 (Langhorne Creek)
David Bowley is a clever fruit sourcer (sorcerer?) and winemaker. Made for/with UK importer Red Squirrel, this is a cracking Aussie red at the price. Very fresh, inky, juicy, savoury, perky – a bit of whole bunch or carbonic here? Techniques which animate its dark fruit, as do the tannins – present, as they should be with this northern Italian grape, but striated with the fruit, so they’re never drying. Rather a teasing restraint – a bit of ballast – for this Lagrein’s buoyant fruit.
Bellwether Art Series Montepulciano 2017 (Riverland)
Sourced from Basshams, whose also supply Delinquente with organic fruit, this tangy red berried and wild bilberried Montepulciano features lovely florals, ripe but present softly mouthcoating tannins and a salty finish.
Bellwether Art Series Tempranillo 2016 (Wrattonbully)
I find this consistently impressive. Juicy with blood plum and liquorice to nose and palate. Textured graphite tannins bed down the finish. Very well done.
Bellwether Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Coonawarra)
This medium-bodied Cabernet is really in the zone, long on perfume and flavour. Super-expressive, with lift florals, violets especially, perfumed blueberry and cassis, savoury polished leather nuances and fine tannins. For Steve Brown, spending much longer on skins and sourcing from a vineyard with transitional soils, not just terra rossa, enhances the lift. With fine, persistent acidity, it lingered long.