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Back in the UK – Petaluma latest releases reviewed

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I’m pleased to see Adelaide Hills’ pioneering brand Petaluma return to these shores after a four year absence.  In town to show off the latest releases with new importer, Bancroft Wines, Chief Winemaker Andrew Hardy (pictured) rang a few changes.  For example, the new winery in Woodside (though the focus remains on Piccadilly Valley fruit) and pulling back a touch on the new oak for Yellow Label Chardonnay.

But the style and pedigree of the wines was reassuringly familiar.  Which is as it should be for this terroir-driven brand’s sub-regional and single vineyard range of wines.  They have an enviable track record for ageing – I well recall the 2006 30th anniversary tasting of verticals which I wrote up here (in pre-pics blog days)! The Chardonnays and Rieslings particularly stood out.

All the latest releases of the wines we tasted, save the fizz, are being listed in the UK by Bancroft Wines.  Doubtless a reflection on the UK’s highly competitive, price sensitive market for fizz and the dominance of Champagne at the top end.  However, the category goes from strength to strength in Australia; Hardy was stoked that, for the first time, a sparkling wine –  House Arras 2007 Grand Vintage – had just won Grand Champion Wine of Show at the Royal Queensland Wine Show (RQWS) Awards.

Here are my notes:

Petaluma Croser Piccadilly Valley Vintage Sparkling 2012 (Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills)

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According to Hardy, Australia’s sparkling market (from Prosecco up) is “huge” with “enormous interest” in top end wines.  Indeed, there are now 32 Methode Traditionelle producers in Adelaide Hills alone.  Half of Petaluma’s current production is made up of their traditional method sparkling ‘Croser’ wines.  This blend of 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay is sourced from vineyards at 400-500m above sea level in the cool Piccadilly Valley sub-region.  The base wine was part barrel fermented and underwent 100% malolactic fermentation prior to spending four years on lees (Hardy remarked early examples, which were Chardonnay dominated, only saw partial malo and were too acidic).  The 2012 is subtly creamy in texture with a fine bead to its delicate melon fruit, a lick of strawberry ice cream and focused, very persistent, grapefruity acidity.  Good length. 13%

Petaluma Croser Piccadilly Valley Late Disgorged 2003 (Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills)

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At around AUS$50 down under, the flagship cuvee strikes me as remarkably good value for money.  Like its Tassie rival, House of Arras E.J. Carr Late Disgorged, lengthy lees ageing (12 years versus 10 for the Arras), an element of barrel fermentation and full malolactic fermentation, make for a powerful, complex style.  Hardy pointed out that Petaluma pick the Pinot Noir at the riper end of the spectrum too. Croser Late Disgorged 2003 is a yellow/antique gold hue with plenty of nutty/bready autolytic complexity, even a touch of smoked hazelnut/rancio.  Rich and weighty, roast peach, strawberry ice cream and savoury lees lend ample flesh to its backbone of acidity.  This and a persistent bead  command line and length.  A satisfying fizz which would happily take you into main course territory.  13%

Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2015 (Clare Valley)

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The Hanlin Hill vineyard was planted in 1968 (by Len Evans) on a west-facing slope on the eastern edge of the Clare Valley at relatively high altitude – 550m. The soils are predominantly red loam over slate – “hard rock” as it were.  The 2015 vintage is the first to be made at Petaluma’s new 2000-tonne winery at Woodside.  A capacity which highlights Petaluma’s growth since 1976, when the crush was around 150 tonnes.  Pleased about the new production facility, Hardy emphasised the importance of capacity and the winery’s skew to white winemaking given the logistical issues which climate change has posed in recent early, fast and furious vintages.  He remarked that Riesling has been picked in February for the last five years – way earlier than when he started at Petaluma in 1982.  Sparkling is picked in January, whilst March used to be the norm said the winemaker, speculating about whether Australia might end up with two vintages a year.  As for Hanlin Hill Riesling 2015, it was hand-picked between 16-26th February.  The free run juice was cold settled.  Partially clarified juice was then warmed and inoculated with a select yeast and fermented in stainless steel tanks.  It’s a perfumed wine with an edge of hops to its pretty flowers and talc nose.  I’ve always found this wine quite exotic with a musky orange peel (even a touch of sweet tangerine) and lychee character which, sure enough, shone brightly on the palate – good fruit weight here.  For Hardy, it’s an approachable vintage – “not a 20-30 year old wine [like the 2010]” – on account of the fruit forwardness.  Buoyed by fresh acidity, those primary fruit flavours really ran with the fresh ginger in my sashimi starter, ratcheting up this wines exoticism. 13.5%  UK RRP c. £17.50

Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2010 (Clare Valley)

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Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2010 – a perfect match with yellow fin sashimi with ginger, pickled daikon, okra, wasabi at M Restaurant, Victoria

I love flute magnums (this one under cork, from 2014 under screwcap). They are so elegant.  For Hardy, 2015 is “up there with the best in memory vintages.” As you’d expect, with five years under its belt, it has a bit more colour and palate weight.  But in line with Hardy’s comments this is a firmer wine, its backbone of acidity lending terrific (lime) zesty length and minerality to the palate.  Hanlin Hill’s characteristic musky, talc notes give lift, but there’s an invigorating hard rock minerality – slate/quinine – too.  While the 2015 put the focus on the ginger in my yellow fin sashimi, this ran with every element of the dish brilliantly (pickled daikon, okra, wasabi in addition to the fresh ginger and tuna).

Petaluma Yellow Label Chardonnay 2015 (Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills)

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Petaluma Yellow Label Chardonnay was an Oddbins’ stalwart back in the day.  For some its smoky/slightly oily oak (a “smoky bacon” character which Hardy attributes directly to favoured cooper Dargaud et Jaegle) might seem old-fashioned these days.  For me, it’s part and parcel – a reassuring thumbprint – of a wine which doesn’t need to prove itself.   It shows great fruit purity and poise with age.  That said, in line with current trends, the new oak is down to around 60% (the balance second use) and larger formats – 300 & 500l barrels as well as 225l barriques – are now used.  And I think that’s a good tweak -it doesn’t compromise the style but it recognises the current trend away from very pronounced oak.  The Chardonnay was handpicked between 2nd and 16th March, starting with the Summertown Vineyard and finishing with the iconic Tiers Vineyard.  The latter typically represents around 25% of the fruit each year. Ten per cent of the fruit was whole bunch pressed and the juices well settled (for a week) prior to inoculation (old school style).  The wine underwent partial malo and batonnage.  It was blended and filtered to bottle in December 2015.  Petaluma Chardonnay 2015 shows smoky oak, lifted rock melon and tightly coiled nectarine and citrus fruit to a firmly structured, very poised palate.  Good focus and energy from oak and acid with the fruit concentration to pull through and balance.  Subtle leesy notes emerge with time in glass.  From a vintage Hardy rates highly for this variety, it is built to age. 14% UK RRP c. £24

Petaluma Tiers 2013 (Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills)

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Although the Piccadilly Valley is the Adelaide Hill’s coolest sub-region, Tiers Vineyard is the lowest and warmest in Piccadilly, yet the latest to ripen.  It was planted in 1979 to then ubiquitous OF/I10V1 at a time when, said Hardy, “no-one talked about what clones we’d got” (a newer planting which was originally Pinot is now replanted with Bernard clone Chardonnay).  In a dry growing season with the driest summer since the vineyard was planted, the fruit was hand-picked on the 15th and 16th of March. Vinification went down the same route as Yellow Label but, after nine months in oak, Tiers was selected from the five favourite barrels –  two new from Francois Freres, one new from Dargaud et Jaegle and two one use barrels from Mercurey. It was bottled on January 31st, 2014.  Yellow gold in hue and firm but deep on nose and palate, it has a palpable sense of concentration and power.  In the mouth it reveals smoky oak (whispier than the Yellow Label), fleshy white peach and lightly buttered, still well-defined, intense and sappy golden delicious apples, complete with nutty, satin brown seeds.  It’s a lovely, very integrated, nuttiness (different from oaky nuttiness) which Hardy identified as a trope of this vineyard – “other vineyards give more tropical lift.” A supple Chardonnay with subtle savoury texture, power and grace.  Drinking very well now but expect it to age well for a decade plus.  13.5% UK RRP c. £32; Oz Wines Online have a pre-shipment offer for delivery in the first week of August at £359.99/12, £192/6 bottles with free delivery, UK mainland.

Petaluma Yellow Label Coonawarra Red 2012 (Coonawarra)

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Petaluma purchased both the Evans Vineyard in Coonawarra and the Hanlin Hill Vineyard in Clare Valley in 1981.  The Evans vineyard was planted in 1968.  The is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 4% Shiraz.  Hardy mentioned that the Merlot has now been pushed back in favour of a larger Shiraz component (from original 1968 vines).  The winemaker pointed out that the Shiraz was difficult to get ripe in the past and, now it can, he favours a Cabernet/Shiraz blend.  There was no release in 2011, so the 2012 is out earlier. The Evans Vineyard received 1658 degrees Celsius days of heat versus the long term average of 1414 days in 2012, so it was slightly warmer than usual.  Which perhaps explains why the Shiraz was picked first on the 13th of March, followed by Merlot on the 20th, and finally Cabernet Sauvignon on the 28th of March.  Following a 4 day cold soak the must was inoculated and fermented in Potter fermenters with a heading-down-board arrangement (to keep the cap wet).  It was fermented for 12 days with daily rack and returns with five days post-fermentation skin contact, then pressed and aged in new French oak for 22 months (mainly Dargaud et Jaegle).  Petaluma 2012 Coonawarra Red reveals dried herbs, black berry and vivid, perfumed red cherry to the nose, which follows through in the mouth together with sour plum and bitter chocolate/cocoa.  With juicy persistence and a raft of powder-fine tannins this medium-bodied red has lovely structure and length.  It has all the components to age well.  14.5% UK RRP c. £31; Oz Wines Online have a pre-shipment offer for delivery in the first week of August at £359.99/12, £192/6 bottles with free delivery, UK mainland.

Petaluma Yellow Label Coonawarra Red 2002 (Coonawarra)

Harvested a decade earlier from the coolest vintage on record (following drought conditions), this is impressively youthful (and I should add from magnum).  It retains great depth of colour/opacity to the core and shouts Connawarra on a nose sweet with cassis, savoury with roast chesnut, tufa earth and, I’m stealing Hardy’s comment, winter greens.  With age, the palate has fleshed out but lost no animation.  It has a mellow richness to its cassis, plum and red cherry fruit, even a touch of (attractive, not bretty or volatile) blood and balsamic as it opens up.  The finish is poised, very balanced and long.  Impressive.

Petaluma E & V Shiraz 2014 (Adelaide Hills)

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I remember receiving the first vintage from Petaluma’s Mount Barker vineyard (planted 1992) when I managed Oddbins Fine Wine in Farringdon in the early noughties.  It was accompanied by a Viognier which has since been dropped from the range (though an acre remains – too difficult to grow, said Hardy).  It (the Viognier) is sometimes included in this wine, but the 2014 is 100% Shiraz. Back then it was ground-breaking stuff – one of the first cool climate Shirazes me or my customers had tasted.  The 2014 comes from two preferred parcels, “Provis” and “Wendouree” selections from blocks planted to vines from cuttings taken from these two great Clare vineyards.  Following a 5 day cold soak the must was inoculated and fermented in Potter fermenters with a heading-down-board arrangement (c. 5% whole bunch).  After two weeks on skins, it was pressed and then aged in French oak for 17 months (mainly Dargaud et Jaegle, mainly 225l barriques). Savoury punch – emphatic riffs of black pepper and meaty undertones –  announce its cool climate credentials.  However compared with say Shaw & Smith’s, the Lane’s or S.C. Pannell’s Shirazes, this wine seems relatively four square – more solid, with riper fruit (macerated plums, blackberry) and higher alcohol (at the time I thought this might be a function of being served last and warming up, but having subsequently checked the alcohol by volume -15% – perhaps not).  15%  UK RRP c. £25

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