Wine Book Review
Have you ever noticed that the trailer for the new “best movie this summer” ends up being the best thing about it?....
30 Jun 2014
September sees a flurry of wine tastings in London and if you’re not careful it would be very easy to spend the best part of the month on the train up and down the Chiltern Line to Marlborough, coffee in hand. So when I was offered a tasting in Birmingham I jumped at the chance. Especially given that Grosset and Dandelion Vineyards were to be showcased.
Sitting next to Owner Phil Innes, at Loki Wines in Birmingham, as he gently nursed a subtle hangover from last night’s celebrations, I congratulated him on his award from Decanter Wine Awards as “Best Regional Wine Merchant outside London“. Having spent time in his shop I can attest that this award is deserving, as can guests of ours from the restaurant that also frequent his shop either to purchase a bottle of favoured wine, or to indulge in light entertainment wrapped around excuses such as Hen Party, Birthday celebration in the form of wine tastings. Hosted by Phil, the psychedelic velvet stools around slim tasting tables seem to enhance rather than distract from the wine tastings and my only qualm on the decor is the efficiency with which a large number of fully grown adults were slotted into place around a long, thin tasting table. The table boasted enough room for 2 glasses each and a spittoon, sadly, not for elbows or tasting notes.
The tasting was easy to put quite neatly into 2 halves. The styles of the wines and the personality of the wine makers couldn’t be further apart if it had been scripted. And yet it did indeed unfold like a underground stage production of a trendy wine tasting in mid-town Brum.
Jeffrey Grosset is a legend in his field. He has been making international award winning Rieslings from the Clare Valley, South Australia for over 30 years. Indeed, his wines are considered Iconic and it should be considered a pleasure to meet him, and an honour that he still feels it necessary to travel the world talking to people like us about his wine. After all, he doesnt need to. His exports only 25% of his wines each year and every year his wines go on allocation, always to be sold out. Well, I was excited to meet him and having just returned from Germany spending 5 days tasting nothing but Rieslings, it was great to quizz him on the relative merits of sugar versus acidity in corresponding harvests, information, he willing shared with me. Jeffrey gives little of himself away during these talks, a genuinely shy character who instead puts all his personality into the very soul of his wines. They are indeed elegant, complex, very very interesting and above all awe inspiring. His tasting was calm, ordered and well paced.
And then came the explosion.
Again, I have never met either Zar or Elena Brooks of Dandelion Vineyards, but I do know something of their wines. We list a few at the restaurant and Elena has featured in several tastings I have hosted where the theme is female wine makers. Zar dominates the room with a bullish confidence. A former lawyer and now vineyard owner/typist/pa/restaurateur (all his own titles, reference his business card!) No one can deny his enthusiasm for his own wines and infact, wines in general. His occassional interjections during Jeffrey’s talk gave us a hint of his full frontal exposé in the second act, but one felt almost on a rollacoster. The gentle, poised wine tasting of Grosset wines was merely the ride gently rocking along the track and slowly pulling itself gently and unassumingly up the hill. Zar bursts onto centre stage with the same finger gripping thrill as being flung full pelt down the most thrilling of those fairground rides. “Hold onto your seats guys”, I felt we were in the for the ride of the day. His exuberance for his wines and his admiration for his wife’s work should never be in doubt. And where their wines dont achieve the same level of international recognition as his co-conspiriator during this tasting, they are far from dull. If ever wines could sing the same tune as their owners, these did just that. Grosset wines are quiet, assured and above all elegant. Dandelion wines are in direct contrast, they are much louder, intense and almost Kitsch in their beauty, but none the less satisfying. Imagine two very good friends with very different personalities. One to have quiet intellectual conversations over matters of the heart, and the other to go partying with. Both offer you a great evening, but leave you with very different memories. For that very reason, I enjoyed both very much indeed, all the more so for meeting the personality behind the wines. A sense of understanding and connection ensued and made for a very memorable tasting.
‘Polish Hill’ Clare Valley Riesling, 2013
Located at the base of Mount Horrocks at an elevation of 460metres, this vineyard is a Hard rock site with shallow shale and a crust of marl over slate. This was considered a superb vintage to make this bone dry rieslings. This wine is young and is still very tight, showing a very lean lime zest acidity with some minerality. As you would expect, there is a beautiful perfume and purity. This is considered one of the Iconic Clare Valley Rieslings.
‘Springvale’ Riesling, 2013
Just 5km apart from Polish Hill, but the difference is clear. This wine is slightly fatter and riper in its fruit. Some ripe peach and melon aromas. Again this still young and shows in its very lean palate with some lemon sherbet and water melon. Both these wines show really well from 4 years and can age superbly for 15-20 years.
‘Alea” Riesling, 2012
In 2000, a survey of Grosset’s property indicated a narrow (300 metre by 22 metre) corridor of hard red rock, like slate with a poor orangery red loam for top soil tht Jeffry believed suitable for Riesling. This became the Alea vineyard, named after the Greek Goddess of wisdom, courage and agriculture, Athena Alea. By 2006 Jeffrey noticed that the Rieslings from this small site reasonabled the great European wines, not completly dry and embraced this style. Made this year with a residual sugar of 13.3g/l residual sugar, this is a significant difference from the other 2 rieslings with less than 1g/l of sugar. The nose was very aromatic with a honeysuckle, orange and orange blossom. Beautifully concentrated palate of melon and tropical fruit. There is a rich full wine with vibrant lime acidity with rich concentration. This was the first time I tried this wine and felt a real sense of kinship with this wine. This will subsequently feature on our wine list.
Clare Valley Semilon/Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2012
The Clare Valley Semillon is from the Grosset Springvale vineyard and the Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc is from a private grower in central Adelaide Hills. A peach and apricot nose with hints of orange peel. The palate offers a good concentration of youthful fruit. Reminiscent of a fresh well made Bordeaux from an hot year, but remaining fresh and appealing.
‘Picadilly’ Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, 2010
With only 600 dozen wines produced each year, from the cool Piccadilly Valley in the Adelaide Hills. Jeffrey makes this wine to be deliberately restrained, taking inspriation from Burgundian Chablis. White peach, melon and vanilla on the nose. The obvious use of new oak in the form of French barriques is designed to allow all the rich aromas and flavours to develop a more sophisticated and rounder character. At present, this integration seems ongoing. It lack a little of the clarity that great Chablis brings, it felt a little too rich and obvious in tropical fruit and waxy vanilla. I am assured that time softens these wines, and so would suggest trying older examples to really appreciate the creativity in this wine.
Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir, 2010
Again, only produced in small quantities, this, we are told will sell out almost as soon as it is made, despite the fact that, like top Bordeaux, it wont be released for a number of years, so it has a strong following. Aged for 12 months in 40% new oak this wine offers all the hallmarks of a very well made wine. Its jammy blackcurrant fruit with hint of sweet spice and menthol exhibits the hallmarks of wines from Burgundy. Its palate shows jammy primary fruit, blackberries or raspberries in a marked intensity. For me, however, there was an over reaching acidity that tipped in just over the mark of ready integration. It felt, in essence too young, a little raw on the palate, but by no means less impressive.
Not available at this tasting, but tasted a week later at Liberty Portfolio tasting in London
900 dozen available each year. This again, is one of the cult wines, sold on miniscule allocations each year throughout the world and has a well known following.
It did indeed seem to earn its reputation offering wonderfully fragrant, rich and intense black bramble fruits. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc, it offers all the hallmarks of an elegant Margaux style Bordeaux yet with more supple and rich fruit. It feels tight, restrained but by no means mean with its fruit and yet is considered very young at this age. Most followers would drink from now and hold back some (if they are lucky enough to purchase enough) to drink 10 years from now.
I am at the time of writing, being promised a ”generous’ 6 bottles, all that can be offered as only a few cases left in the country, so will feature albeit briefly on the restaurant wine list.
‘Wonderland of the Eden Valley’, Rieling, 2012
They don’t make many white wines, but when they do, they to keep them fresh and vibrant, away from too much interference in the wine cellar. This wine was harvested in a cool March morning, de-stemmed into small bunches. The free run first press juice was then fermented in stainless steel tanks and bottled without fining or filtration. In essence, to keep it as pure in fruit as possible. It offers orange blossom, peach and some delicate perfume aromas of subtle lychee on the nose. The palate is very fruit driven, with concentrated melon and lime flavours and a hint of petrol drifting in on the end of the primary palate. This wine is intense and concentrated, with great balance if ripe fruit but finishes dry with a distinctive lime acidity. Anthony Rose comments that “its a gorgeous, young and fragrant riesling that you will want to drink” and it is easy to see why it has one several international awards in its category of Australian Riesling
‘Lion’s tooth of McLaren Vale’ Shiraz/Riesling, 2010
It is still usual to see Shiraz offered with some Voignier, its not as trendy as it was, say, 5 years ago, but it is blend that I like and serves a nod to the Cote Rotie in France. But I have never heard of before, let alone tasted Shiraz blended Riesling. It comes, we are told from an old wine that they happened upon in the cellars and though they would ‘give it a try’ on the current wines. This wine showed some very intense plum fruit with morello cherries and a hint of rich dark chocolate. The palate was just as concentrated with tea leave flavours on the finish.I was intrigued to see if I could place the Riesling, I could not. Therefore it is hard to say whether it did indeed lend anything to the wine. Zar and Elena are all for experimenting and whilst you might not always understand them, it is afterall, their vineyard to do with what they deem fit. But I am yet to be convinced that this is more than just a gimmick for the wine.
‘Lionheart of the Barossa’ Shiraz, 2011
This wine did exactly what it said on the tin. It was a textbook example of well made Barossa Shiraz. Its opulent and rich nose of blackcurrants, chocolate and sweet spice was just as concentrated on the palate. There was a purity with its fruit on the palate that appealed. The secondary red fruit flavours were well paced and with a youthful bright red plum acidity and helped lift this intense wine to a more balanced and drinkable product. Here Elena showed off her wine making skills once again, but leaving the wine to express much of itself without too many props. It has seen a little bit of new oak, but is all the better for it.
‘Red Queen of the Eden Valley’ Shiraz, 2009
It was interesting to hear the Brooks comment before presenting this wine “in Australia, we dont need to make the biggest, brightest or loudest wines to make a difference”, and yet actually, that is indeed what they had produced. This wine is big and loud, and in part, this is due to the wine maker. 75% of the wine is aged in new French oak, just after fermentation is completed. Allowing this wine to age for 30 months before release continues it along its bright and loud path. It was a very concentrated wine, it smelt like a candle, all concentrated fruit and vanilla. It was, having said that, quite impressive. For all its intense black fruits, there was a fresh vibrant acidity that seemed to drive the wine forward, keeping the fruit in check and allowing the balance of the wine to be retained. Its tea leaf and smoked paprika flavours helped mellow this wine on its massive journey through your tastebuds and overall, it was easy to see why it has a following and sold on allocation each yea.
‘Pride of the Fleurieu’ Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011
It seems throughout the tasting of these wines, the words ‘intense’ and ‘concentrated’ crops up a lot. They certainly do like to pack a punch with these wines and this was no exception. This wine was ‘intense and tart’ was how I referred to it whilst tasting. Blackcurrant’s and pencil shavings on the nose, some cassis and blackcurrant on the palate, but the acidity and tannins were sharp. It was, after all, a cool year, but it all felt a little coarse. I couldn’t say at present, whether time that would undoubtedly soften this acidity and tannin as they learnt to to integrate with its fruit would be as kind to its fruit. There is always a danger with making wine like this that the fruit flavours give way before the other elements of this wine have time to integrate.
‘Legacy of the Barossa’ 30 year old Pedro Ximenez
Now, Ive been a big fan of this wine since I was introduced to it about 18 months ago. We use it alot on our dessert menu. Its not to everyone’s liking, granted, but in the room, the feeling was unanimous. It was a great little wine. Aged solaria style in barriques and blended to a Non Vintage wine, it shows some great complexity. Elena has made this very well and her wine making skills are shown off to its advantage by having the foresight to produce this. Its offers masses of tropical fruit, dried sultanas, with macadamia and hazelnuts. It has an almost bruising acidity on first taste, but this allows the wine to retain its remarkable flavours. It finishes almost like a Tawny port on the finish, with creamy praline. Lovely to be trying this again.
Wine Book Review
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