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Notes from Down Under: Rockford, Hardys, St Hallett, Bird in Hand, Henschke, Penny’s Hill

December 15, 2012

The following are short notes from a recent trip to Melbourne and Adelaide. While it has become fashionable to dismiss Aussie reds as one-size-fits-all fruit bombs, I strongly feel that the unique Australian terroir of dry, hot, arid lands is best defined by its shiraz, and I’m pleased to report that most of the shiraz I’ve tasted were generally glorious, with those from the Barossa claiming the honours. With the exception of a few other bright spots here and there, you can forget about everything else, and I’m not a big fan of South Australian whites.

Serious tasting room at Port Phillip winery2008 Pyrenees cabernet sauvignon, over dinner at PM24, Melbourne, 6 Dec 2012. Popped and poured. Dark and jammy. Heavy with sweet plums and licorice, spicy at the edges, refusing to ease even after two hours.

2010 Port Phillip Estate pinot noir, at the tasting room of Port Phillip winery, Mornington Peninsula, 7 Dec 2012. Suitably light in color and texture, medium-bodied with the usual red fruits amidst a mild salty minerality but ultimately unmemorable.

2010 Port Phillip chardonnay, tasted at Port Phillip winery, Mornington Peninsula, 7 Dec 2012. Made without malolactic fermentation, resulting in a wine that’s lean in body and texture, dominated by crisp citrus and chalky minerality without the usual creamy buttery characters, and not much depth either.

Delicious2009 Kooyong Estate pinot noir, a half-bottle (AUD39) over an excellent lunch at the classy restaurant of Port Phillip winery, Mornington Peninsula, 7 Dec 2012. Dull dusty red, earthy saltiness, camphor, enamel, dark roses and raspberries, doesn’t quite match up on the palate, seemingly a tad too cautious. Could do with more layering and complexity.

2010 Kooyong Estate “Ferrous” pinot noir, tasted at Port Phillip winery, Mornington Peninsula, 7 Dec 2012. Packs power and elegance, glycerin, bright cherries and red fruits, excellent depth, not too weighty, seamless and linear. Excellent.

2012 Rockford Eden Valley Riesling, tasted at the cellar door of Rockford winery, Barossa Valley, 10 Dec 2012. Crisp and lively with a predominance of yellow citrus and stony minerality, clean and dry on the finish.

2009 Rockford Moppa Springs cabernet shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of Rockford winery, Barossa Valley, 10 Dec 2012. Full, ripe Barossa fruit where the structured dark chocolate and earthiness of the cabernet is balanced against the spicy peppery shiraz, matched by fine supple tannins. Excellent.

2010 Rockford Rifle Range cabernet sauvignon, drunk over an outstanding dinner at Walkerville Chinese Restaurant, Adelaide, 10 Dec 2012. Full-bodied, imbued with blackberries and dark currants amidst other notes of earth, forest floor and dusty tannins with a mild aftertaste of sweet licorice. Adelaide & Melbourne 2012 120But watch out for that 14.5% alcohol which will rear its ugly head if the ambient temperature is too warm.

2012 disgorgement of the Rockford Black Shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of Rockford winery, Barossa Valley, 10 Dec 2012. Simply gorgeous, the layers of complexity from the mix of various vintages of the estate’s fabulous Basket Press Shiraz already readily apparent, finishing with its signature liquered finish, though mild at this stage. Still priced at only AUD58 after all these years. I wasted no time securing a half dozen (the cellar door limit for two adults).

2010 St Hallett Eden Valley Riesling, tasted at the cellar door of St Hallett winery, Barossa Valley, 10 Dec 2012. Very similar in character to Rockford’s riesling from the same source – clean, crisp, lean and dry.

2010 St Hallett Scholz Estate single vineyard shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of St Hallett winery, Barossa Valley, 10 Dec 2012 and again two days later over dinner at Prof Horowitz’s residence. From a plot located north of the Barossa. Very lovely, full-bodied but balanced, layered with raspberries, red currants and darker berries with an extended finish, already hinting at some early complexity. A wine with plenty of character. Excellent.

2010 St Hallett Blackwell shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of St Hallett winery, Barossa Valley, 10 Dec 2012. A blend from various plots in the Barossa. Smooth, medium-full, weighty but well-balanced without any trace of alcoholic heat, just lacking in real character.

2009 St Hallett Old Block shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of St Hallett winery, Barossa Valley, 10 Dec 2012. Also a blend of Barossa shiraz but from very old vines. Weighty, extracted but well-balanced with chewy tannins. But I’d expected more character for the asking price of AUD100.

St Hallett Black Shiraz NV, tasted at the cellar door of St Hallett winery, Barossa Valley, 10 Dec 2012. Similar in idea to the Rockford Black Shiraz but less successful, missing in real layering and potential complexity, coming across as just a pleasant sparkling red.

That's how Henschke Keyneton Estate came about2010 Henschke Lenswood Pinot Noir, tasted at the cellar door of Henschke winery, Barossa Valley, 10 Dec 2012. Substantial in body and weight with notes of bright raspberries and rose petals, but there’re many other far better examples around.

2010 Henschke Tappa Springs shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of Henschke winery, Barossa Valley, 10 Dec 2012. Almost full-bodied, loaded with smooth ripe shiraz fruit of excellent concentration and weight, superbly crafted without the jamminess.

And a little secret from Henschke…in anticipation that the 130-year-old vines responsible for the famous Hill of Grace may not be able to continue much further, Henschke has used cuttings from some 20 of the best of these vines to produce a new line of flagship single vineyard shiraz, now called the Hill of Roses, the 2007 vintage presently only available from the cellar door at AUD230 (not available for tasting). Expensive, in my opinion, but prices can only move in one direction. There’s no choice but to start stocking up.

2008 Hardys Oomoo chardonnay, tasted at the cellar door of Hardys, McLaren Vale, 11 Dec 2012. Made from fruit grown in the Adelaide Hills. Notes of cream and vanillin oak, slightly buttery, with good presence and balance. Refreshing.

Going through a special pourer even just for tasting, at Hardys.2011 Hardys Oomoo shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of Hardys, McLaren Vale, 11 Dec 2012. Made from fruit grown in the same locality. Dense bouquet with herbal aromas and notes of forest floor. Smooth and even, not jammy at all in spite of the 14% alcohol. Just a tad short. I’d be happy to put this on any table.

2008 Hardys Reynella Basket Pressed shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of Hardys, McLaren Vale, 11 Dec 2012. Displaying a sharper peppery accent on the nose that is highly attractive. Dense in color but not in texture, possessing superb structure, focus and concentration with tannins well in check. Excellent. I must look out for this back home.

2009 Hardys Tintara McLaren Vale shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of Hardys, McLaren Vale, 11 Dec 2012. A predominance of red fruits, sweeter, less dense and more open than the Reynella with a hint of spice and plum at the edges.

2005 Hardys Upper Tintara shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of Hardys, McLaren Vale, 11 Dec 2012. Noticeably accented and minty on the nose and palate, dominated by peppery notes, leading to a long long finish. More rustic in character compared to the Reynella Basket Pressed.

2009 Mr Riggs Adelaide Hills Cold Chalk chardonnay, tasted at the cellar door of Penny’s Hill, McLaren Vale, 11 Dec 2012. Minimally oaked, resulting in a lean wine dominated by grassy notes.

2011 Penny’s Hill The Handshake chardonnay, tasted at the cellar door of Penny’s Hill, McLaren Vale, 11 Dec 2012. Quite unlike an Old World chardonnay. More of grassy green notes tempered with a dash of vanillin, clean and dry at the finish.

2011 Penny’s Hill Cracking Black shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of Penny’s Hill, McLaren Vale, 11 Dec 2012. Weighty with a relatively sharp attack of warm shiraz fruit on the back palate.

DSC_03582011 Penny’s Hill Skeleton Key shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of Penny’s Hill, McLaren Vale, 11 Dec 2012. Deep ruby. Heightens the senses with an intense, broad swathe of very ripe shiraz without the jamminess in spite of the 14.5% alcohol. Savoury with superb concentration and balance. Excellent.

2010 Penny’s Hill Footprint shiraz, tasted at the cellar door of Penny’s Hill, McLaren Vale, 11 Dec 2012. Similarly deep in color, but surprisingly more open and accessible than the Skeleton Key, with a hint of earth. Sourced from six rows within a single plot, aged in a mix of American and French oak.

Petaluma Croser NV, at Prof Horowitz’s residence, Adelaide, 12 Dec 2012. Open with attractive citrus, pomelo and melons, primarily fruit-driven, supported by clear minerality but, unfortunately, lacking in complexity and depth, and the brazen dryness doesn’t quite help.

Rumball Coonawarra sparkling red, at Prof Horowitz’s residence, Adelaide, 12 Dec 2012. Another sparkling red that’s primarily fruit-driven with raspberries and blackberries, but rather straightforward, lacking in depth and complexity.

2011 Bird in Hand Sparkling pinot noir, tasted at Bird in Hand cellar door, Adelaide Hills, 13 Dec 2012. Pears, melons, peaches, soft, not too dry. Very agreeable.

2012 Bird in Hand sauvignon blanc, tasted at Bird in Hand cellar door, Adelaide Hills, 13 Dec 2012. Feminine, aromatic, strawberries, but could do with greater intensity and fruit flavors on the palate.

2010 Bird in Hand chardonnay, tasted at Bird in Hand cellar door, Adelaide Hills, 13 Dec 2012. Lovely citrus, crisp, slightly creamy, recessed minerality. Very pleasant, as long as you’re not looking for anything too cerebral.

2010 Bird in Hand merlot, tasted at Bird in Hand cellar door, Adelaide Hills, 13 Dec 2012. Soft, minty, medium-full, forest floor, leafy.

2011 Two inThe Bush shiraz, tasted at Bird in Hand cellar door, Adelaide Hills, 13 Dec 2012. Soft, medium, fruit driven, short. Billed as an entry-level shiraz but falls short.

2010 Bird in Hand shiraz, tasted at Bird in Hand cellar door, Adelaide Hills, 13 Dec 2012. Soft, fuller than the above, ferrous quality, peppery, spicy without the outright intensity.

2011 Bird in Hand cabernet sauvignon, tasted at Bird in Hand cellar door, Adelaide Hills, 13 Dec 2012. Leafy, forest floor, austere, almost backward though with good delineation. Not my style of cabernet.

Adelaide & Melbourne 2012 142Bird in Hand fortified merlot, tasted at Bird in Hand cellar door, Adelaide Hills, 13 Dec 2012. Blended in old French barrels from vintages 2002 to 2008. Powerful, medicinal aromas, old leather, aged honey. Strictly for connoisseurs only.

Another bit of secret from Bird in Hand…apparently the 2010 vintage of it’s flagship shiraz under the line Nest Egg was voted by Winestate magazine in a recent 2012 issue as the “world’s best shiraz”, beating Henschke Hill of Grace as well as Penfolds Grange in a blind tasting. Only AUD95. Not available for tasting at the cellar door. I’ll let you know whether I concur 20 years from now.

2002 Rockford Basket Press shiraz, courtesy of Prof Gary Wittert at his residence, 13 Dec 2012. Simply popped and drunk neat over the next 75 minutes, first time I’ve ever consumed a Rockford in this manner. Very tight and masculine initially over the first hour, the wine coming across as a monolith of ripe warm shiraz blazing an alcoholic trail with notes of plum, licorice, prunes and spice in its wake. Gradually it began to loosen up, transforming into the Basket Press that I know, softer, more open, the initial layers emerging from the dense body, the wine more supple, the tannins silkier in texture. It was a pity I couldn’t stay on to witness how the wine would unfold further. But I assure you this is a great shiraz. Just make sure it’s properly decanted under cool temperatures for at least 2-3 hours prior to tasting.

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