Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Report from: Australia Regional Heroes Wine Tasting – September 27, 2007

This year the Australian Tasting held in Toronto wanted to highlight the regions of Australia as well as the wine – putting the focus on where the wine comes from and showing the distinct differences the wine of certain regions have. Australia breaks itself in 63 wine regions within their 7 territories: Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Northern Territory and Tasmania. Only the Northern Territory has no definable wine regions (or wineries) and Queensland had no representation at the show; while South Australia, with its 17 regions, had the most representation (35). Surprisingly, Victoria, with its 21 regions, had only 8 wineries to represent it. Not surprising is that most of my selections come from South Australia (11) with one each from Victoria and Western Australia; proving that if you send the most, you get the most.

Western Australia …

Hamelin Bay (Margaret River) had a delicious blend called Rampant Red ($22.95 – consignment: Thompson Vintage Trade Ltd.) a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon (64%), Shiraz (21%) and Merlot (15%) that had a smooth red fruit base with some spicy black fruit characteristics – very enjoyable.

Victoria …

De Bortoli (Yarra Valley) has what might be one of the most delicious dessert wines ever to come out of Oz. Black Noble Botrytised Semillon ($38.95 - #677104). Semillon is a white grape, but after being matured in small oak barrels for 8 years, the wine has become dark in colour, has a tawny port-like look, sweetness and taste, with a long nutty almond finish. Simply scrumptious. Release: April 12, 2008 thru Vintages.

South Australia …

This coming spring (2008) keep your eyes peeled for Gemtree Vineyards (McLaren Vale) 2006 Uncut Shiraz ($26.50 - #627844). This marvelous wines stands out in the crowded world of Australian Shiraz. The Uncut stands for unfined, unfiltered, untouched, and basket pressing of the best grapes. Gemtree uses state of the art technology to choose the grapes for this wine, flying over their 360 acres of vineyard (with its 28 soil types to get special aerial photographs of the grapes to show them the ripeness of each vine. This allows them to pick only the best grapes: the best row, the best plant, right down to the best bunch to make this outstanding wine. 15 months spent in new oak (80% French – 20% American), and the flavours just pop both on the nose and in the mouth: vanilla, cinnamon, black fruit, anise, black pepper, white pepper, and other spices. This one should see stores in 2008 (spring). Like more of a fruit bomb in your Shiraz then check out Gemtree’s other offering, Bloodstone ($17.95 - #22111) lots of candied fruit with a hint of pepper.

I was ready to write Kangarilla Road’s (McLaren Vale) 2005 Shiraz ($22.00 – Rogers & Company) off as typical when I put the glass to my nose, but then I took a sip – sweet cherry fruit and pepper makes this one exciting in the mouth.

I’m sad to report that the LCBO has made a huge error in judgment; one of my favourite Australian producers, Nepenthe (Adelaide Hills), will not be seeing their shelves this year. I guess the wines sold too quickly, people liked them too much, or the quality was just too good. Whatever their reasoning you won’t be seeing The Rogue ($19.95) blend of Cab, Shiraz and Merlot that has become so popular; or Tryst ($15.95), a spectacular blend of Cabernet, Tempranillo and Zinfandel that had black cherry, plum and chocolate nuances in the nose with good white pepper, cola, vanilla and cherry in the mouth. It also represented good value at $15.95 – check with the Merchant Vintner if you want some of either, they’ll be happy to sell it to you instead.

I didn’t find a great deal of Merlot to recommend, but the Parker Coonawarra Estate (Coonawarra) 2004 Terra Rossa Merlot ($36.95 - #678581) stood out from those I did try with its chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon nose; peppery-cinnamon taste … quite lush in the mouth.

Paxton Vineyards (McLaren Vale) 2005 AAA Shiraz Grenache ($24.95 – Diamond Estates Wine & Spirits) was a bit pricey for my taste, but my taste also liked the smooth yet spicy black fruit, easy drinking style and rich feel in the mouth.

Not many white wines on display, I would say the ratio red to white was somewhere in the range of 3 or 4 to 1. Pike Wines (Clare Valley) was an anomaly showing off 3 whites and only 1 red. Their 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($16.95 – Authentic Wine & Spirits) had a nice ripe melon and grapefruit nose, in the mouth the grapefruit continued but lacked the bracing acidity you’d expect; its finish was quite dry though. Their 2006 Riesling ($16.95 – Authentic Wine & Spirits) was a pleasant surprise. Fresh peach upfront with a light lime zing of refreshment in the mouth – also with a very dry finish.

If you’re looking for unpretentious and delicious, Shingleback (McLaren Vale) 2005 Red Knot Shiraz ($18.90 - #619395) could very well be your ticket: light, easy drinking, smooth with lots of plum and chocolate. Make no mistake about it, this is the kind of Shiraz everyone at the party will love.

I’ve been seeing Skillogalee’s (Clare Valley) label a lot lately … maybe it’s my mind playing tricks on me, but I think I’m seeing it everywhere. If I’m not I should be, because there wines are very impressive. The Non-Vintage Sparkling Riesling ($25.95) is made in the traditional method and spent 20 months on the lees in bottle – it has kept that fruity Riesling taste with all the fizz you could ask for. The still Riesling 2006 ($22.95) has lots of peach and other stone fruit on the nose, along with white peach and a lick of sweetness on the tongue. My favourite wine Skillogalee had on offer today had to be the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc Malbec blend ($24.95). This 75/20/5 mix of the three grapes mentioned, delivers raspberry, strawberry, red fruit and plum on the nose; while sending cola, rum, spicy pepper, good red fruit, plum and eucalyptus to the tongue; I found it very Zin like and really enjoyable. Skillogalee wines are available thru WorldWide Cellar; though keep a look out for them in the LCBO, I’m sure I’ve seen them there on occasion too.

One of the new touchstone wines of Australia is the Shiraz-Viognier blend. A touch of Viognier (fragrant white wine), usually not more that 5%, is added to the Shiraz to cut a bit of the spiciness and add some floral notes to the aromas of the wine – this is yet another wine type stolen from the French. Tatachilla (McLaren Vale) 2004 Keystone Shiraz-Viognier has all the right markings: pepper, plum, cinnamon and floral on the nose; while the mouth follows through on the promise of the nose with some extra spiciness; tasty and sippable. It should see Vintages shelves sometime in June 2008.

Finally, two wines from Thorn Clark Wines (Barossa Valley) – first the 2005 Shotfire Quartage ($19.95 – Saverio Schiralli Agencies Ltd.), the name might suggest 4 grapes, but winemaker Derek Fitzgerald told me he added a fifth when he took over the wine making reigns, “just to add some depth and complexity.” Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Merlot (55/10/20/10/5) spend 18-20 months in 70% French oak. The finished wine is delightful – berries and chocolate, spices and herbs, yum. The 2005 Shotfire Shiraz ($24.40 – will see LCBO shelves in November) spends 16 months in 70% American oak, 20% of which is new. Crop thinning for this grape is the norm, bringing in only the best fruit. Combined (oak and fruit) to give the wine good longevity in bottle. Pepper, black and red fruit, rich and mouthfilling. Look for this as a November purchase at Vintages for sure.

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