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Liberty Wines Tasting: Australia Highlights 2018

John Duval and his excellent Barossa reds

Handily timed the week before the annual Australia Day Tasting, Australian specialist Liberty Wines’ tasting provides the perfect opportunity to limber up.  For next month’s Riesling Downunder in Melbourne too – their fine selection of Australian Riesling is now augmented by Clonakilla’s fine Canberra District example.  My highlights below, plus check out last Friday’s post on Pinot Noir specialist Jane Eyre’s Victorian and Burgundy wines here.

Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Stephanie Toole’s Watervale Riesling comes from her certified organic vineyard planted on the very edge of this sub-region’s highly prized red soil over limestone.   Picking started on 20 March – later than in recent years.  Though it has a classic Watervale nose – precise but pretty, with enticing florals/bath salts – the palate is firmer and ‘drier’ (as in less overtly fruity) than one might expect.  Unfined, I liked its palate-cleaving, subtly textural, mineral (slatey) palate very much.  It has a certain muscularity to its taut lime and grapefruit – think those limes which are hard to press, unyielding, as opposed to a juicy, scented ones.  It puts the emphasis on the minerality, drawing you into the wine.  Long, firm, impressive.  Cries out for oysters.  12.5%  RRP £21.99

Mount Horrocks Watervale Semillon 2016 (Clare Valley)

This is my favourite Australian Semillon in an oaked style.   The oak (40% new) brings structure and smoky minerality as opposed to sweetness, which compliments this Semillon’s scintillating limey, lemony  palate.  A hint of lanolin complexity sings of Semillon.  Finely honed and energetic.  Free-run juice makes for the purest core of fruit, whilst barrel fermenting and ageing on gross lees with stirring for nine months lends complexity and structure.  13.5% RRP £22.99

Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Frost damage at the Mount Horrocks Auburn Vineyard from which this sweetie is usually sourced meant that Steph  sourced grapes from the Watervale Vineyard. Picking continued through until May 15, with a little botrytis influence on the uncut fruit, the first time since 2011.  It’s always a toothsomely sweet concentrated wine, yet has great clarity and length to its barley-sugar accented lime/lime blossom palate. Long, long.  11.5% RRP £23.99 (half bottle).

Grosset Springvale Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Vine age (and specifically, the vines’ roots intercepting slate bedrock) together with a shift to organic cultivation (certified) has imbued Grosset’s Watervale Riesling with greater gravitas – a Polish Hill-like pronounced minerality, firmness and focus.   Tasted blind, I might have confused the two, though Polish Hill still pulls out all the stops on the finish.  Which is not to say that Springvale is any slouch in that department.  It’s a completer finisher alright!  Muscular, chalky/mineral-sluiced grapefruit and lime has impressive palate  presence and length. 12.5% RRP £25.99

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

With its lime flower and lime-streaked palate, this vintage of Polish Hill is positively expressive on nose and attack.  Tapering as it goes through, the lime passes the baton to firmer, muscular, pithily textural grapefruit, then pure slate which crashes around the back palate, lingering in waves.  Terrific.  12.7%  RRO £33.99

Grosset Gaia 2014 (Clare Valley)

Perfume, restraint and intensity characterise this extremely accomplished, elegant blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc.  It reveals cedar-kissed blueberry and blackcurrant fruit, with a delicate trace of green/dried herbs.  Seamless, fine chocolatey tannins and persistent acidity carry a long finish.  Lovely.  14%  RRP £52.99

Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2015 (Adelaide Hills)

Subtly sweet vanillin oak edged apple and white peach nose and palate with creeping grapefruity acidity, which leads onto a mouthwatering, crystalline finish (perhaps reflecting that fruit was sourced principally from Shaw + Smith’s Lenswood vineyard at 500 metres above sea level).  Certainly more finely honed than it used to be. 13% RRP £28.99

Shaw + Smith Shiraz 2015 (Adelaide Hills)

I received a sample of this ultra-consistent red.  The medium-bodied 2015 is dangerously drinkable with fleshy but markedly fresh, juicy and sweet scented blood plum and blackberry, with Rhonish savoury pepper, anise and earthy, granitic minerality.  A very Rhonish 12%  too.  Unshowy, but very good indeed.  RRP £29.99

Tolpuddle Vineyard Coal River Valley Chardonnay 2015 (Tasmania)

Tolpuddle Vineyard, Coal River Valley

I love the Chardonnays from this vineyard.  The 2014 topped my Decanter Australian Chardonnay Expert’s Choice of last year.  The 2015 is slightly different having undergone 100% malo for the first time, so it exhibits less of the rapier-like acidity of the ’14 and has a creamy/lacto note to the finish that puts me in mind of Chablis not Riesling.  Smoky oak, custard apple, grapefruit and crushed oyster shell minerality lend plenty of interest to the palate.  12.5%   RRP £43.99

Tolpuddle Vineyard Coal River Valley Pinot Noir 2016 (Tasmania)

A perfumed, perky Pinot with scented red cherry, lovely freshness and a lick of catering chocolate and whole bunch chinato herbs/baking spices.  Has a very transparent, accessible character yet the (fine) fretwork of tannins to age into the mid-term.  13% RRP £56.99

S.C. Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah 2014 (Adelaide Hills)

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Steve Pannell at an earlier Liberty tasting, 2015, Koomilya second from right

I love the snag or pick of tannins behind the perfumed, precise and persistent black berry fruit of this very fine Syrah.  Beautifully made.  14%  RRP £28.99

S.C. Pannell Adelaide Hills Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2014 (McLaren Vale)

With greater intensity and complexity to the palate, this is my favourite GST so far.  70% of the Grenache and Shiraz was co-fermented and topped up with Touriga, then finessed with more of the Shiraz and Grenache to get the balance right.   The final blend comprises 54% Grenache (70 year old), 32% Shiraz, 9% Touriga Nacional (from Langhorne Creek, 9 year old vines) and 5% “other red varieties.”  Although it has no whole bunch it must be the old Grenache which brings intense chinato lift to nose and palate as well as a delicious underlay of sandpapery tannins – part of this wine’s fine framed sensibility,  The Touriga adds an exotic lift of bergamot to the tail.  A palate tickler.  14% RRP £18.99 (Incidentally, Halifax Wine Company have Pannell’s excellent 2012 Grenache at 30% off – as is everything – in their closing down sale.  I enjoyed a bottle over Christmas – it’s a stupendous wine.  You need to phone through or email orders).

Koomilya Shiraz 2013 (McLaren Vale)

Koomilya is made by Steve Pannell from a vineyard which he acquired in 2012; 2103 is the first release.  And gosh, two years on and this still enraptures me.  It is such a distinctive Shiraz (almost the polar opposite of his Adelaide Hills Syarh).  Very Australian.  Very much of its place –  a 70 year old vineyard located on the Amery Road between Kays, Seaview and Hardy’s original Tintara vineyard.  Perfumed yet mellow, with liquorice, baking spices, mulch and fine, silky, silty even, tannins which makes for terrific flow and lingering after-taste.  Momentarily cocooning me (the tasting is always busy), this is a very sensual, transporting wine.  Click here for my original note with a little more background about this 14%  RRP £54.99  Currently on offer at £479 per dozen or £249 per six pack at Oz Wines.

Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling 2012 (Eden Valley)

Interesting to taste this after Steph Toole’s and Jeff Grosset’s ultra dry, youthful Rieslings.  With bottle age (and 5.5g/l residual sugar), Wigan 2012 has a broader, more textural attack, with squishier lime notes (roast lime/lime cordial) as well as lifted lime blossom.  The blossom is most pronounced on the finish which really showcases the quality of the fruit and vintage (2012 enjoyed exceptionally mild harvest weather).  Firm, very long and precsie, it shoots out from under the fruit and is resoundingly mineral, with an intriguing note of fennel.  11%  RRP £16.99

Peter Lehmann The Barossan Shiraz 2015 (Barossa Valley)

This new release adopts the nick name of its esteemed late founder and could not be more Barossan.  It was sourced from 40 growers – a true Barossa blend.  A quarter of the fruit underwent barrel fermentation. And tick tick box, it was aged in barrels, 50% of which were new American oak.  Actually the biggest tick box is the palate, with its supple, creamy, perfumed black forest gateau – all black cherries, cream and chocolate.  Violets too.  A smoothie with nice juice to animate and carry the flavours.  14.5%  RRP £16.99

John Duval Plexus Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre 2015 (Barossa Valley)

Don’t tell him but Duval’s wines always strike me as tremendous value for money given their polish and balance.  Qualities which come without loss of soul or drinkability.  Plexus 2015 is a fine blend of these three Barossa stalwarts – 52% Shiraz, 32% Grenache and 16% Mourvedre.  It has delicious freshness and persistence to its kirsch and blackberry palate with lifted rose petals and spice notes (anise, cinnamon, crushed coriander) coming through on the finish.  Most delicious – makes you want to dive into an Ottoenghi recipe book.  14.5%  RRP £26.99

John Duval Entity Shiraz 2015 (Barossa Valley)

One third of the fruit for this sumptuous Shiraz comes from Eden Valley, which doubtless explains how it retains its brightness.  Dark fruited with cassis at the core it has a touch of engine oil and contrasting lick of eucalyptus.  Long, satisfying and perfumed.  14.5% RRP £31.99

John Duval Eligo Shiraz 2015 (Barossa Valley)

Duval’s top Shiraz is sourced from vineyards on the valley floor and higher up in Eden Valley. It’s a seamless, highly polished example with great sheen to its cassis and blackberry fruit, perfumed oak and long in the mouth iron filing mineral tannins, which make for an elegant finish – dry, not sweet.  Super classy.  14.5% RRP £67.99

Balnaves Coonawarra Cabernet/Merlot 2012 (Coonawarra)

Nice complexity to this Bordeaux blend with lifted dried roses and a hint of savoury meat pan juices to its chocolate-edged cassis fruit.  Super fine tannins bring flow and length.  Very nicely done in this classic year – a favourite.  14.5%  RRP £22.99

Balnaves Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (Coonawarra)

In this tricky (wet) year, Pete Bissell has pulled off a fine, medium-bodied Cabernet.  Yes lighter, a touch austere even, than other vintages, but with delightful perfume (inky florals) and fine tannins to its blackcurrant fruit.  Nice intensity, freshness and character.  14.5% RRP £26.99

Bill Downie Biodynamic Petit Verdot 2015 (Riverland)

This captures variety and region well.  Petit Verdot rendered in an accessible style with ripe, smudgy, chocolatey tannins and, since I last tasted it (my review here) more emphatic red-fruitedness/florality – redcurrant and rosehip no less.  Shapely, but with line and length.  Very good.  13.5% RRP £17.99

Clonakilla Canberra District Riesling 2017 (Canberra District)

A distinctive Riesling with a quite different mineral twang to its South Australian compatriots – tangy, ironstone-like, though it is sourced from Murrumbateman’s decomposed granite soils.  The grapes come from estate owned vineyards at 600 metres above sea level, which make for an appley palate, with fruit close to the core (firm, not so fleshy and drier) and grapefruit and crisp apple drive.   It has a just perceptible  textural slippery/pillowy character – perhaps the 5g/l residual sugar (which doesn’t detract from the distinctly dry profile of the palate)?  Very good.  Great to see all the Rieslings shown bare their post codes!  12.5% RRP £29.99

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2016 (Hilltops)

Currently quite reduced on nose and palate though I sense everything is in place to deliver up plenty of enjoyment given its lithe palate, with meaty and cocoa dust nuances.  14% RRP £24.99

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2016 (Murrumbateman, Canberra District)

Following last year’s excellent Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 1994-2015 vertical , it was interesting to pick up where that left off with the 2016 vintage.  In this early, generous vintage, I didn’t sense the delicacy, tension or accumulation of flavour layers of my favourite years.  The 2016 has an edge of bacon fat and a riper, darker fruit spectrum than previous vintages, which places the focus more squarely on its blackberry fruit.  The tannins are ripe and fine and it has a juicy persistence so, with its fruit power, it has all the components to age well.  I’d like to sit with it for longer than a portfolio tasting allows to let it reveal more of itself.  One to review.  14%  RRP £88.99

Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Syrah 2016 (Yarra Valley)

I adore 2015 Yarra Valley Pinots and Chardonnays but the warmer, more compact 2016 seemed a bit blocky and lacking a bit of flavour development/length for me – here and at Giant Steps where I gather the 2015 was picked over 90 days versus 28 days for the 2016s.  Which explains why, from this range, the Syrah was my pick of the bunch (and I preferred the fruitier, solidly made 2016 Pinot Noir to the Chardonnay).  With 60% whole bunch the Syrah has nice interest, with a meaty, savoury edge to its bright plum fruit and a supple palate with a deftly judged touch of (whole bunch) grip. 14%  RRP £17.99

Giant Steps Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2016 (Yarra Valley)

A very complete wine already with a darker spectrum of juicy blackcurrant/cassis and enticing savoury mushroom notes to the finish.   Incidentally, the 2016s also sport a new more classic label.  13.5% RRP £19.99

By Farr Three Oaks Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 (Geelong)

The 2015 vintage featured in my Decanter Expert’s Choice of last year.  As you would expect from this estate, the 2016 is similarly dense and textural, with bacon fat and cashew notes to its slippery white and yellow peach fruit, almost a waxiness.  There’s a touch of smoky fried noodles with lard to the youthfully tight (as in closed) finish.  A substantial, complex Chardonnay which will benefit from time in bottle.  13%  RRP £55.99

Cullen Diana Madeline 2015 (Wilyabrup, Margaret River)

I shall be showing this Cabernet blend at Margaret River masterclasses in Edinburgh and Dublin over the next week.  What a gorgeous wine it is too – so refined, sheer almost, with translucent black and red fruits, powder fine tannins, dried roses, bitter chocolate, pronounced minerality and incipient kelp/iodine.  Nice to reacquaint myself with it following last year’s report of a 2010-2015 Diana Madeline vertical. 13%  RRP £85.99

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