Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Pewsey Vale: Riesling heaven

Our visit to Yalumba, one of South Australia’s historic wineries, was very much a game of two halves. First a tasting in one of the cunningly reconditioned 175,000-litre fermentation tanks, itself something of a first, then a drive to Pewsey Vale. The tasting was a quick spin around the remarkable range of styles the company now makes, partly through also owning companies in Tasmania, eg Jansz.  Thus they can now offer refined toasty sparkling wines, Viognier in several styles, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Tasmania, Tempranillo from the Barossa and classic Aussie Cabernet/Shiraz in The Scribbler.  There is also a large range at entry level prices – Vermentino and Sangiovese Rosé were just two that catch the eye. 

Living in north Hampshire, England, one is really struck by the number of English places names in South Australia. Of course it is hardly surprising as settlers gave their new villages, towns and streets familiar names.  One of the most touching for those of us from the south of England is Pewsey Vale.  For us, Pewsey is a delightfully low-key largish village in Wiltshire, just 17  miles from home.   It sits in the middle of the vale which bears its name.  After the tasting Jane Ferrari, Yalumba’s global ambassador and all-round legend drove us out into the Eden Valley (echoes of Cumbria) to Pewsey Vale to see the vineyards which grow the famous Riesling. We did have to stop for an emergency coffee and outsized piece of delicious cake first but we heroically rose to this challenge too.

The ride up to Pewsey Vale is magical.  In mid summer the grass is straw coloured punctuated by mid-green gum trees (see the earlier post on these) reassuring you that there is still life in this parched land.  The famous Riesling vineyard is on Pewsey Vale Peak with splendid views all around. First planted in 1861, replanted a century later, it has now been joined by Heggies Vineyard, acquired in 1972.  The finale to our tour was tasting the 2015 Pewsey Vale along with the 2010 Museum Release. This provided a classic contrast between the youthful, floral expression (with explosive lemon and lime rind notes) of the first and the toast and marmalade perfection of the older wine.  Riesling heaven in the Eden Valley!  

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Henschke – the pinnacle

The tag ‘people, places, wines’ perfectly sums up the subtle and profound appeal of Henschke‘s wines.  


This is another story of early free settlers in South Australia making a home and a living in a remarkably remote spot. Even today with excellent roads and a short drive from the Barossa Valley, you feel you are entering a remoter, wilder countryside as you travel up to Keyneton. What must it have felt like to the first settlers in 1841?  

And in their own ways the current generation of Henschke are just as impressive.  Fifth generation Stephen and his wife Prue, two botanists who did part of their training Geisenheim in the Rheingau, have taken the property on to be simply one of the world’s greatest wine growers.  This curious designation seems entirely appropriate here. Their work has been:

  • tending the Grandfathers block of 1860-planted Shiraz
  • planning for the future by planting selections of the best old vines for the next century or two
  • whole hearted commitment to organic and biodynamic viticulture, written up at length on Prue’s blog
  • wine making which brings out the maximum potential of the fruit: ‘traditional and fastidious’ in Stephen Henschke’s words
  • training a sixth generation to take the property on 
  • being ambassadors for a holistic ethos imbued with a deep intelligent curiosity about the world we inhabit

Stephen popped in to see us at the end of our excellent tour and tasting with Megan.  Five minutes turned like a flash into an hour’s conversation which ranged over the weather in this season; moving to Scott-Henry training on some blocks to increase to a two-metre foliage canopy to increase Quercetin (resulting in a marked extra black pepper character at the same maturity) by increasing UV not direct sunlight; promoting natural maturity earlier through biodynamic farming; the effects of white man’s agriculture on the poor soils of the Eden Valley and how to reverse these effects; the challenge of growing native grasses; the benefits of the Vinolok closure (glass is beautiful and tactile; the food-grade polymer O-ring has the same closure quality as a screw cap); why Hill of Grace has greater intensity and texture than its immediate neighbour also old-vine Shiraz, Mt Edelstone. Never has lunch been missed in a better cause! 


As already hinted, the Henschke’s wines do come with the additional bonus of being grown in one of the most evocative and beautiful landscapes imaginable. Even in the height of summer, the native trees which dot the landscape bring some relief to the parched straw-coloured ground.  At the vineyard the old Lutheran church stands guard over the Hill of Grace vineyard.  The road still has its original German name: Gnadenberg. On our visit I was moved by the connections with my own family. On my mother’s side my family is Austrian by origin and had travelled the world because of political persecution (escape from Nazi invasion) and inspired by a protestant faith – in my parent’s case to bring modern medicine to a remote village in central India.  The benefits here are more hedonistic but moving nonetheless.  The ‘hill of grace’ is in fact a shallow valley at 400m of altitude, eight hectares in all, now planted in blocks which include the oldest vines planted at least as early 1860 (conservatively dated by documentation) and other Shiraz blocks, Riesling, Semillon and Mataro.  The Henschke wines are also drawn from nearby Mt Edelstone, a further site at 500m of altitude in the Eden Valley and a special vineyard at Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills.  


Julius Riesling 2015, 11.5% – 40 year old estate-grown vines, this is Henschke’s flagship white which was showing well with its broad, floral nose and remarkably vivid impact on the palate and exciting acidity (pH 2.97, TA 7.05).  An excellent Eden Valley Riesling.  

Croft Chardonnay, 2014 – is made from Lenswood-grown fruit from the Adelaide Hills and interestingly is a few dollars more than the Riesling ($40).  Fermented in barrel, 28% new French oak, with a mixture of wild and selected yeasts, then aged for 10 months in barrel, with two months of lees stirring.  Creamy with a touch of vanilla on the nose, then subtle ripe apple fruit, pear skin and tart stone fruit and fine, rich texture.  

Giles Pinot Noir, 2013, 13.5% – again Lenswood fruit, 30 year old vines, a mix of Pommard and Australian clones, really bright red berry fruit with savoury notes, long savoury finish and firmish tannins. Barrel ageing is again the magic 28% new French barrique for 10 months.  

Henry’s Seven 2014, 14% – an unusual blend of 60% Shiraz, 24% Grenache, 8% Mataro and 8% Viognier, the Viognier being co-fermented with the Shiraz. Ageing is 10 months is French-oak hogsheads.  Layered fruit on the nose with red plum and distinctive peach and almond kernel, presumably from the Viognier.  This really stands out from the usual GSM or similar blends.  

Keyneton Euphonium 2012 – growers’ fruit and homage to local musical tradition.  Aussie/Bordeaux blend of 65% Shiraz 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc which has spent 18 months in predominantly French oak, 15% new.  Bold blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, soft textured. The Cabernets dominate the nose, the Syrah the palate.  

Cyril Henschke 2010, 14% – 84% Cabernet Sauvingon, 13% Cabernet France, 3% Merlot, aged in 45% new and 55% used French hogsheads for 18 months. Classic blackcurrant fruit and leaf, ripe, broad palate, medium bodied, very fine ripe tannins. As a five-year old, already showing some development and softening.  

Mount Edelstone 2012, 14.5% – 100% Shiraz from the single vineyard with 100 year old vines; aged for 18 months in 87% French and 13% American hogshead, 32% new. Lively and refreshing (pH 3.56), spicy black fruit, elegant nose and palate, towards the red end of the red-to-black fruit spectrum with pepper and sage themes, very refined finish. The vivacity of this top Shiraz is due to the vineyard facing east and so not getting the direct heat of the afternoon sun.  Superb.  

Hill of Grace 2010, 14.5%  – Stephen describes 2010 as a year of radiance, resulting in perfumed wines. But there is also a big step up here in terms of the finest, dense blackberry fruit, a super elegant nose, with Asian spice character, luxurious soft but taut texture and very fine and still firm tannins.  In Stephen’s view, the Hill of Grace’s greater power and character is due to a combination of yet more vine age, deeper soils, more moisture from the creek. 100% Shiraz, aged in 65% new and 35% older oak, 95% French and 5% American, hogheads for 18 months.  Simply, one one of the world’s greatest wines, combining elegance, complexity and understated power. 

The shorthand for the wine making style here is ‘traditional and fastidious’.  Waxed, open fermenters made of concrete are still the order of the day for reds. The cap is kept submerged with minimal hand-plunging to achieve a full and soft extraction.  Pump overs are used primarily to give the chance to cool the ferment as required.  The whites are made in a contemporary part of the winery with refrigeration.  Enough solar power is captured for the winery’s power needs except during the vintage itself.  

With thanks to all the staff of Henschke. Having been to hundreds of wineries and vineyards in the last decade and more, I can safely say that visiting Henschke is a pinnacle, for the people, the place and the wine.  


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Rocking Rockford (2)

Rockford Wines are famous for their Basket Press Shiraz and for an amazing sparkling Shiraz, a true local speciality. But there is much more to their range that that. Visiting the cellar door is an opportunity to taste a good range of less well-known but equally interesting wines.   Even, because of enormous demand, you have to plan your visit when there is still wine to taste. We were very fortunate:

Vine Vale Riesling 2015 – Barossa fruit with a restrained citrus peel nose but with remarkable depth on the palate. Barrel-aged in old oak for a broader, fuller wine. 

Eden Valley Riesling 2013 – mid lemon in colour, developed petrol nose, lifted lemon fruit on palate, bold acidity. A late release to accentuate the quick developing character of Eden Valley Riesling.  

Semillon 2012, 12.5% – aged for a year in a large neutral cask, then bottled and given a couple of years to develop.  Fine citrus and a touch of honey on the nose; crisp textured palate; excellent developed lemon fruit with a marked mineral note. Again very developed for a three-year old.  

White Frontignac 2015, 9% – the grape known elsewhere as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is called Frontignac here and elsewhere.  Lovely Muscat fruit, simple and sweet (20g/l residual sugar).  

Alicante Bouschet, 2015, 9.8% – no skin contact but a rosé from the red-coloured flesh of teinturier grape, Alicante Bouschet, made a slighter sweeter than just off-dry style with 15g/l residual sugar. Bright cheery fruit with an estery lift. This modest offering, price and quality wise, has been a huge success and funded many of the aged reds for which Rockford is famous.  

Frugal Farmer, 2014, 12.4% – being a blend of Grenache, Mataro and the skins of the Alicante Bouschet: waste not, want not! Pale ruby in colour, cherry and cherry stone nose, intense even taut palate with good length with savoury spice. The Grenache is picked early when the early ripening Alicante is ready; the Mataro is picked later when it is ripe and a blend made later.  Rockford see this wine as a stepping stone to the bigger reds and a reflection of their continuing conviction that everybody should be able to buy a bottle of a good, even very good wine and not be excluded by the cost: $22 (= £11) at the cellar door.  

Moppa Springs 2011, 14.4% – 52% Grenache, 33% Mataro, 15% Shiraz from a warm pocket of the Barossa, if here in a cooler year.  18 months in old French oak.  Very marked, lifted red berry fruit, a Rockford wine which has gone under the radar.  

Rod & Spur 2013, 14.2% – the name is an acknowledgement of the growers on whom much of Rockford’s success is based. This a is classic Barossa Shiraz/Cabernet blend, loving called ‘our claret’.  Great fruit intensity in a blackcurrant and blackberry range, this tastes like Cabernet Sauvignon but with soft tannins and with more opulent fruit from the Shiraz.  All estate fruit.  Good value at $34.50.

Rifle Range, Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, 14.4% – dense earthy nose, fresh blackcurrant fruit, earthy and minty on palate, quite a full mid-palate and a tight tannic structure.  Aged in mostly old French oak.  

Basket Press Shiraz, 2012, 14.2% – made from only the best dry-grown Shiraz, aged for two years in a mix of mostly old French and some American oak barrels made by local A.P. John, highly regarded artisan barrel maker.  Superb spicy and ripe black fruit, mouth-filling satin texture, fine grained tannins, magnificent depth: the fuss is rightly about Basket Press Shiraz.  

Black Shiraz, disgorged August 2015, 13.5% – sparkling wine made from a base wine from a 31 year old Solera with an average age of eight years, aged for three years in old oak first, then bottle-fermented with 6-9 months on the lees and some residual sugar. Streams of not only bubbles but red to black fruit plus leather and forest floor, somehow manages a finish which is both sweet and savoury, some grippy tannins.  My brain is confused by vinous complexity and depth on the mid-palate and bubbles!  

2007 Shiraz VP, 18.5% – VP stands of course for the no longer allowed ‘vintage port’, here fortified not with neutral spirit but wood-aged brandy: that Shiraz fruit can stand up to a lot!  Profound red berry to blackberry fruit, soft tannins, very fine.  

P.S. Marion Tawny, 20.5% – average age is 18 years but with some older wine up to 50 years old. The name is homage to one of Rockford-owner Robert Callaghan’s other passions, steam paddle boats on the Murray river.  In fact Rockford organise luxury gastronomic cruises on this very vessel.  Fabulous depth of fine and bold aged fruit and a warm 20.5% alcohol.  

With thanks to Ben and Holly for an unforgettable visit.  And to David Thomas who in his Caviste years introduced his customers to the Barossa Valley and Rockford in particular.  



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Eden Valley gum trees

Seppeltsfield’s Centurions

Many wineries claim a unique point-of-difference, few do so as convincingly as Seppeltsfield, on the very edge of the Barossa Valley.  As the peak of a large and inventive range of wines,  each year since 1978 they have released a single-vintage, 100-year old Grenache-based tawny from their Centennial Cellar. To achieve this each vintage they start out with 2,000 litres of fortified wine in four 500-litre puncheons.  One of these becomes the final wine while the other three are used to top it up over the decades.  By the time of bottling at 100 years the wine has been downsized several times and there is about 250 litres to sell.  As a result the final liquid is a black, unctuous, intensely sweet, molasses-filled drop with well balanced acidity.  Truly remarkable.  The 1916 which we tasted is about to be released.  As a guide, the 1915 was $2,000 for a 375ml bottle.  

The history of the Seppelt family is told in loving detail on the company’s website. Back in private hands again, having remarkably survived a period of corporate ownership with its centennial cellar intact, the historic gravity-fill cellar has been restored to be a fully functioning winery. Most recently, on the historic site a fantastic cellar door and restaurant has now been added. For a business that can trace its history back to 1851, all the signs are good for the next century and more.  

Some favourites from the huge range: 

Vermentino 2015 – only the third year of release this is another example of the Italian varietal mania currently sweeping South Australia and a very convincing one.  Pale lemon in colour, this really succeeds with its refreshing lemon and green herb fruit and fine acidity. A little bit of weight and texture have been added through some lees ageing.  

Barossa Grenache 2015 – much of the company’s old Grenache goes into the fortified wines but chief Wine Maker Fiona Donald has introduced a non-oaked Grenache table wine of real distinction.  Interesting this $30 wine (roughly £15) is intended to be drunk young and you can see the appeal to a generation of drinkers brought up on clean fruit flavours and intensity rather than complexity. Raspberry cordial on stilts!  

Über Shiraz, 2012 – at the other end of the scale in ambition and ageability, this $150 wine has incredible depth to its rich and fragrant fruit, well balanced by acidity and sensitively aged in 30% new French oak. Despite the richness it finishes with a fine acidic line and ripe tannic structure.  

21 Year Old Para Tawny – named after the local Para river, this Syrah, Grenache, Mataro blend has achieved a state of serious unctiousness while retaining fruit.  A fine example from the extensive range of wines modelled on Port and Sherry.  

With many thanks to Nigel Thiele who gave us a great tour and to Fiona Donald who generously gave us her time to walk us through the wine making process for the Shiraz: the key to those soft tannins is ripe but not raisined fruit, careful handling and reining in the extraction, 7 days on the skins with a pump over every 12 hours.



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It’s definitely hot here

Stepping out of a  café at 9:30 in the morning in Kapunda, Barossa Valley, you feel the heat. And here is why:

imageSo there is a difference if 31° C between Kapunda and home … Or even Tuscany.

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Taylors, Clare Valley

Taylors' St Andrews range

We were greeted warmly at Taylors Wines, Clare Valley – sold in the UK as Wakefield – with a magnificent line-up of wines from the premium St Andrew’s range. A young 2015 Riesling and  a fully developed 2007 with honey, mushroom and flinty notes and a deep mid gold colour; a very ripe, tropical Chardonnay 2104; the wonderful Shiraz 2012 and the beautifully knit-together 2006; and finally two Cabernets, the young and tannic 2010 and the finished article from 2006.  


The 2012 Shiraz is so weighted down by its medals it can hardly stand up!  


At this time of year, a dry late-January, the Clare vineyards are beautiful but in desperate need of some rain.  

Wine making details 

Riesling: picked mechanically at night for freshness; 100% whole berry; pressed; free-run juice and 3 hour press cycle kept separately, free run becomes the top quality wine with very low phenolics; fermented with selected German yeast to build some complexity and palate texture; long 21 day fermentation at low temperature, 12º C, to retain aromatics; tanks then topped up and sulphites added to avoid oxidation; naturally settled or fined as required; no lees ageing as fruit purity is the aim; cold and heat stabilised; bottled after 5 months.  

Shiraz: crushed directly into hogheads; add DAP yeast nutrient as required; add some tannins after bench testing; innoculate with selected yeasts; ferment at 28º C for 5-6 days; adjusts pH when at 2º Baume; then top up casks and seal with silicon for maceration phase of 2-3 weeks with skins submerged when temperature drops to cellar 20º C; aged in 100% new American oak barrels for 18-24 months; fine with egg whites to remove high molecular phenolics for that super smooth velvety texture.  Bottle age according to taste.  


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Clare valley history: Sevenhill

Sevenhill Cellars, still part of a living Jesuit religious house, has a great history going back to 1851, just 15 years after the first Europeans arrived in South Australia.  Pleasingly they continue the tradition of making the traditional fortified wines alongside Clare’s more recent Riesling and Shiraz table wines.  Here pictures do tell a story: 

1851 foundation

And it is not just the historical record which goes back a long way. They still have a few rows of 160 year Shiraz vines.  

Old vine Shiraz

And of course there are interesting things to see in the vineyard, not least veraison taking place, the point at which green immature bunches begin to turn colour.  


Let’s hope that the future continues as bright as the past has been long and venerable.  

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Grosset’s Rieslings

Jeff Grosset has made a worldwide reputation for his Clare Valley Rieslings. There is nothing quite like sitting in the tasting room and looking at them side by side, a tribute to 35 vintages from this winery. All these wines are from the 2015 vintage:  

Grosset's RieslingsPolish Hill, 12.7%: slightly atypical for Clare, this is mineral and tense on the nose but once into the palate there is remarkable clean, green apple and floral notes, with great concentration. Grown on shallow, slatey soil, where the vines put down roots which then have to go sideways because of impenetrable rock.  Great ageing potential. 

Springvale, 12.7%: classic Clare Valley for its bright, attractive floral and riper apple nose but also with austerity.  This wine is the converse of Polish Hill in that it starts out in this fruit phase but then on the palate there is a mineral undertow of real power.  Grown on deeper, loamy soils. 

Alea, 12.5%: a small production from challenging, limestone soils.  More rounded on the nose and palate with some peachy fruit and lemon curd. As time passes the floral theme begins to emerge.  Very slightly off-dry in style or at least softened by 12g/l residual sugar, barely perceptible on the palate due to the high acidity, but it does lift the fruit. 

These wines are clear expressions of their place as the wine making is very simple.  Handpicked, free run juice only, no skin contact, fermented with neutral selected yeasts in stainless steel vats, unfined; fermentation in February (typically), bottled in September for freshness.  

Grosset also make other wines, some which are equally in demand and basically sold out. Apiana is an innovative Fiano/Semillon blend; a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend; Chardonnay and Pinot from their cooler Adelaide Hills vineyards; the cult Bordeaux blend called Gaia and finally Grosset 45, a distilled spirit made from free run Riesling juice.  But in the end it is the Rieslings which are the thing here.  

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Transit in HK

Lunch in Hong Kong Transit at Hong Kong … are we there yet? No, not quite … just 9 hours to Adelaide which will now seem like a hop, skip and a jump compared to the nearly 12 hours to get here from London.  The route was remarkable – keeping safely north over the Baltic countries, then the endless miles of northern Russia and across China. You know you are a long way from your normal commute when you can see Ulaanbaatar on the map, however big the scale is.  

transit in HKHong Kong airport, as many of you will know, is a temple to contemporary consumerism. Glass, several storeys of shops, paid-for lounges.  But it also has good food at a range of prices. We wiled away a couple of hours in Cafe Deco which has good food and somewhere civilised to sit.  We skipped the red Burgundy at a £100 a bottle and finished our meal with super-strength coffee.  Next stop really should be Adelaide.  


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