Category Archives: Australian Wine Icons

Aug 08 2012

Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot: A “Hall of Fame” Bordeaux Blend

Posted on August 08, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In an article on Australian Bordeaux blends for the May edition of Decanter Magazine, the Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot was among 15 wines to make Huon Hooke’s “Bordeaux Blend Hall of Fame.” (Aussie Bordeaux Blends by Huon Hooke, Decanter May 2012)

Its inclusion on such a prestigious list, which included other Margaret River greats like Cullen Wines Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot, the Vasse Felix Heytesbury and the Brookland Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, should come as no surprise. Since the mid 1990s, the Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot has been one of the most consistently highly rated wines of its style.

Perennial high scores from one vintage to the next is due in part to a winemaking philosophy that believes in leaving nothing to chance. As Voyager Estate states on its website, “We are meticulous in everything we do: from site, varietal and clonal selection to vineyard management and winemaking.”

Indeed, reading about the labour intensive care devoted to each individual block in order to achieve uniformity – meaning “every vine within a specific block will have the same number of buds at pruning, the same number of shoots and the same number of bunches” – reminded me of the approach taken at top Bordeaux estates like Château Haut-Bailly and Château Pape Clément, where everything is done with an eye on perfection.

The goal at Voyager Estate is to give the Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot the absolutely best chance possible of expressing the true essence of its very special terroir.

The original ‘Old Block’ of the Stevens Valley site was first planted with cabernet sauvignon in 1978. Here the terroir of uniform gravelly soils formed from underlying granite and gnessic rock on a stony clay base allows for a slow release of moisture and nutrients to the … Read the rest

Jun 06 2012

Bass Phillip Pinot Noir: “Pushing the boundaries of Australian Pinot Noir Greatness.”

Posted on June 06, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In light of one of my earlier posts, Cellaring Australian Pinot Noir: How long do they last? I was interested to read that Bass Phillip’s proprietor Phillip Jones is most emphatic that good pinot noirs can last a very long time. On his recently launched website, Jones states that the commonly held view that pinot noir cannot be cellared for more than five to six years is “absolute nonsense!”

He goes on to say: “Our most enjoyable wine experience ever were the 1908 Cos de Tart Burgundy and the 1949 Rousseau Le Chambertin, both drunk in about 1990. We are still drinking some Bass Phillips from the late 1980s, and the Premium and Reserves from the early to mid 1990s are looking fresh and complex today.”

Jones, of course, is someone who knows a great deal about pinot noir. His Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir and Premium Pinot Noir have been pivotal in gaining serious international recognition for Australian pinot noir. Jones was an early pioneer of high quality pinot noir production in Victoria and, as the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown observes, he “is still leader of the Pinot pack in Australia.” (eRobertParker.com #195 June 2011)

The Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir is among only 17 wines rated “Exceptional” in Langton’s 2010 Classification of Australian Wine. Langton’s Andrew Caillard MW writes that “It is a madly rare, profoundly intense and exquisitely balanced wine which reflects the nuances of an exceptional vineyard site.”

The exceptional vineyard site of which Caillard refers to is in Leongatha, South Gippsland Victoria. After first experimenting with Bordeaux varieties in 1979, Jones closely planted (9,000 vines per hectare) the vineyard to pinot noir, releasing the first 1989 vintages of the Reserve, Premium and Estate bottlings in 1991. Today the vineyard is … Read the rest

Apr 04 2012

Wendouree: The Collector’s Wine

Posted on April 04, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

When I was researching this post on Wendouree, I came across an article in the Wine Spectator about a very successful Houston heart surgeon who had built an impressive wine collection. Of particular pride for the collector was a substantial vertical collection of Wendouree reds – 90 bottles from 1990 to 2003. (The Pulse of a Collector: A surgeon builds a cellar that would get anyone’s heart racing by Jennifer Fielder, Wine Spectator, 30 June 2007)

The article brought back memories of a collection I once inventoried for another doctor. He also had a passion for Wendouree verticals.  Both doctors created their cellars for long-term drinking pleasure. As the heart surgeon explained, “There’s no wine I buy for investment purposes. They are made to enjoy, not just to look at like trophies on the wall.”

The decision to buy multiple vintages of the Wendouree range may also have a little bit to do with keeping your place on the winery’s coveted mailing list. (No easy task!) Wendouree proprietors Tony and Lity Brady only sell wine via their mailing list. Allocations are strictly limited and prices are deliberately kept at reasonable levels. Few customers pass up the opportunity to take what’s on offer!

The Bradys see themselves as custodians of a priceless treasure. Many of the vines on the 28 acre Clare Valley property date back to 1892. The beautiful historic stone winery is also over 100 years old.

The Bradys purchased “A.P. Birks Wendouree” (the full name, as it still appears on the label) in 1974 and have limited production to straight varietals or blends of shiraz, malbec, mataro, cabernet sauvignon, and a dessert muscat of Alexander.

The wines are meant for the cellar – one of the main reasons why collectors hold onto their verticals.  As wine writer … Read the rest

Dec 12 2011

Reviews for Penfolds Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008: Australia’s most expensive wine!

Posted on December 12, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

If you’ve been following Cellarit on Facebook or keeping up with recent wine news, you couldn’t have missed reading about the fanfare around Penfolds official release of the Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008 in Shaghai, China. The lavish launch was held at the opulent Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where guests were treated to a six course banquet and a spectacular light show with contemporary Chinese dancers.

The reason behind all the fuss was Penfolds’ release of a wine that was last made in 1966. “Special Bin” wines are only produced when the vintage conditions are perfect, and quantities are very limited. As former Penfolds Senior Winemaker and consultant John Bird explains: “In 2008, we tasted several rows of our Coonawarra blocks (5, 10 and 20) and realised that this had something extra, something unique. It transported me back to 1966 and the experimental Bin 620. The fruit profile is classic Penfolds. Having tasted many parcels of Coonawarra fruit it became apparent that we simply had to make this wine.”

The $1,000 price tag, of course, also attracted a fair bit of interest. It made the wine Australia’s priciest release to date, trumping Torbreck’s The Laird Shiraz 2005, which has a $700 price tag.

So, is it worth it? Well, before looking at what the critics have to say, consider for a moment its price in a global context. A 12-bottle case of Château Lafite Rothschild 1982, for example, recently sold for $US57,360 at an Acker Merrall auction in Chicago. That’s $US4,780 a bottle for a vintage of which at least 15,000 cases were made versus less than 1000 cases for the Bin 620 Conawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008.

To date, critics have been unanimous in their praise for the Bin 620 2008. Langton’s Andrew Caillard said that it is “without … Read the rest

Aug 08 2011

Wine of the Week: Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz

Posted on August 08, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In his post, Tasting Australian History: Six decades with Peter Lehmann (Wine Spectator 12 October 2010), wine critic Harvey Steiman talks about a recent  tasting of the 1996 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz. As Steiman notes, 1996 was the best vintage of the 1990s for Barossa Shiraz and this wine certainly didn’t disappoint:

astonishing suppleness, depth and power. Gorgeous stuff, it showed spicy cherry and blackberry flavors that glowed through polished tannins. Has power without excess weight, and it feels like it can go on for decades. Easily 95 points, non-blind.

I always enjoy reading recent reviews of older wines. The best red wines are designed to age, and typically shiraz can take 10 of more years before it starts to fully evolve. Terrific reviews of older bottles are also a testament to the talent and skills of the winemaker and, of course, the quality of the initial raw materials, which is all about insuring the best outcomes in the vineyard.

In the case of Peter Lehmann, the extraordinary talent of the winemaker is already the stuff of legends. Peter Lehmann had already notched up more than 30 years as a winemaker, first at Yalumba and then at Saltram, before starting his eponymous winery in 1979. Steiman comments that “some of the Shiraz wines he made at Saltram in the 1960s are regarded as among the finest Barossa wines every produced. They are still perfectly sound and continue to be used by Barossa winemakers to demonstrate the longevity of Barossa Shiraz at its best.”

Chief Winemaker Andrew Wigan, who has been with Peter Lehmann since its founding, is also one of Australia’s top winemakers; as recently as 2009 he won the coveted  Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine ‘Winemaker of the Year’ award.

The Stonewell Shiraz is regarded as the … Read the rest

Jul 07 2011

Wine of the Week: Henschke Hill of Grace 2006

Posted on July 07, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

If any wine could potentially knock Penfolds Grange off its mantle as Australia’s most iconic wine, it would undoubtedly be the Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz. These two wines share the stage as Australia’s preeminent expressions of shiraz. Together they perennially deliver almost unbeatable quality, and command equally impressive prices upon release.

But whereas Grange is a multi-regional blend sourced from Penfolds very best vineyards, the Eden Valley Henschke Hill of Grace comes from a single, eight hectare vineyard that was planted in the 1860s with pre-phylloxera material brought from Europe by the early settlers.

Hill of Grace was first made by Cyril Henschke in 1958. Today the wine is very much the product of the shared vision, talent and expertise of fifth generation winemaker Stephen Henschke and his wife, viticulturist Prue Henschke.

The Henschkes are absolutely fastidious about every aspect of vineyard and winery management.  Projects over the years have ranged from a clonal selection nursery to soil management innovations. The Hill of Grace vineyard, for example, is now mulched with wheat straw to avoid herbicide treatment under the vines. This technique also allows more organic matter to be incorporated into the soil and preserves precious soil moisture. Organic and biodynamic principles are also utilised.

The  minimalist intervention approach to winemaking that was favoured by Cyril Henschke in the 1950s and 60s has been continued by Stephen Henschke. The handpicked grapes, picked at full maturity, are vinified in traditional open fermenters and matured for 21 months in a combination of new French and American oak. The use of racking, sulphur, fining and filtration is minimised or avoided.

2006 is considered one of the best of recent vintages, and the reviews have been excellent. Lisa Perrotti-Brown of the Wine Advocate scored the 2006 97+points  and described it as a … Read the rest

Jul 07 2011

Aussie Wine Icons: Clarendon Hills Astralis Syrah

Posted on July 07, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

You don’t usually hear “big” and “graceful” in the same sentence when reading a review of a McLaren Vale shiraz, but here’s the Wine Spectator’s opinion of the 2006 Clarendon Hills Astralis Syrah:

A big wine, but amazingly supple, graceful and pure, offering cascades of wild blueberry, black cherry and plum fruit that play against spices such as cardamom, clove and black pepper. It’s all seamlessly integrated with fine tannins and enough creamy oak to complete the picture. Syrah. Drink now through 2020. (Harvey Steiman, The Wine Spectator, 15 October 2008)

The Astralis is the flagship wine of Roman Bratasiuk’s Clarendon Hills. When the influential wine critic Robert Parker first tasted the Clarendon Hills wines in 1994, he became an immediate devotee, and his enthusiasm for the wines has only continued to grow.  After a vertical tasting in 2001, Parker remarked: “If Penfolds Grange has been the most legendary wine in Australia, my instincts suggest that in the future, if any wine surpasses Grange, it will be made by Roman Bratasiuk of Clarendon Hills in McLaren Vale.” (Vertical Tasting of Clarendon Hills, Wine Advocate, June 2001)

A number of Australia’s best winemakers benchmark their wines against the great ‘Old World’ examples. Bratasiuk’s style of wines has always been informed by his profound appreciation of the very best French wines.* He was one of the first winemakers to use only French oak – the Astralis spends 18 months in 50% new and 50% seasoned, tightly grained French oak barrels.

Planted in 1920, the Astralis vineyard is on a 45 degree ascending slope. It faces due-east and has a top soil layer of pebble-ridden clay and subsoil layer of pure ironstone. The vineyards are no longer trellised and the wine is fermented with indigenous yeasts. Astralis, like all … Read the rest

Jun 06 2011

Aussie Wine Icons: Wild Duck Creek Estate Duck Muck

Posted on June 06, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In The Australian Encyclopedia of Wine, James Halliday recounts a funny story about how the Wild Duck Creek Estate Duck Muck came into being. In 1994, a forgotten block of shiraz in David and Diana Anderson’s ‘original vineyard’, planted in 1988, became super-ripe, was picked as an after-thought and irreverently labelled Duck’s Muck in the winery (David’s nickname is Duck). To their surprise and embarrassment (because of the name!), Duck Muck was blessed by influential American wine critic Robert Parker Jr and became an icon wine.

While serendipity definitely played a role in the creation of this opulent wine from Heathcote, Victoria, ensuring its future success has become a real art form. Special growing conditions are necessary to produce grapes with high sugar concentrations but also with enough acidity to give structure and balance to the powerful and concentrated fruit. David told wine critic Steve Burnham that “We are picking the fruit at well over 15 or 16 per cent and beyond alcohol, or sugar, content. But with an acid as if it were 12 (per cent alcohol/sugar level)…Most people that try to make big wines end up with something a bit flabby. No acid left, and you wouldn’t want to drink it.”

 

 

 

Consequently, Duck Muck is a wine that only has eight vintages under its belt in the space of 16 years and only a tiny quantity (about 200 cases) are made from each vintage.

Today, David works with his son Liam, and is in the process of converting the vineyards to biodynamic. The grapes for the Duck Muck are hand-harvested over a six to eight week period to ensure that they are only picked at optimum ripeness. The wine is vinified in open fermenters and regularly hand plunged. A home-made hydraulic basket press is … Read the rest

Jun 06 2011

Aussie Wine Icons: Torbreck RunRig

Posted on June 06, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

My teenage daughters are big fans of Australia’s Master Chef. They came home giddy with excitement after Neil Perry made a surprise visit to their school – autographed photographs in hand!

I think the adults of this world would equally enjoy (and learn a lot) from an Australia’s Master Winemaker series. Top of my list of real “Master Winemakers” to invite on the show would undoubtedly be Dave Powell of Torbreck. The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown hit the nail on the head with her description of what makes his Torbreck wines so unique:

…what makes these wines stand amongst some of the world’s most special wines is not their supreme plots of land, or their inclusion of fruit of 100 year+ vines or their minimal intervention winemaking.  These factors are all a minimum standard for Torbreck.  The exemplary features of the wines stem from Dave’s relentless efforts, uncompromising winemaking vision and pig-headed stubbornness not to conform. (Torbreck’s David Powell, eRobertParker.com, December 2008)

Hailed by Robert Parker as “Australia’s answer to Marcel Guigal’s Côte Rôtie La Mouline,” the inaugural 1995 vintage of the RunRig Shiraz was a revelation on many fronts. (Wine Advocate #117 June 1998)

It was one of the first of a new generation of  wines to demonstrate the sensational fruit depth and concentration that could be extracted from Australia’s dry-grown old vines. Like its top Côte Rôtie counterparts, the RunRig included some viognier (around 5%) – the fabulously aromatic white wine grape that subtly lifts and extends the aroma and flavour profile of the wine when blended with shiraz.

But Powell married the elegance of the Côte Rôtie style with the richness and power of Hermitage – another great red wine from the Rhône region. The result is a superbly structured, deeply hued, full … Read the rest

Jun 06 2011

Aussie Wine Icons: Reviews for Penfolds Grange 2006

Posted on June 06, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

The annual release in May of the latest vintage of Penfolds Grange is always greeted with a great deal of anticipation. Most retailers’ allocations are sold out even before the reviews are written!

Now the reviews are beginning to trickle in and by all accounts the 2006 vintage is one of the best to date. Andrew Caillard MW of Langton’s gave the wine a perfect score of 100 points, rating the 2006 Grange as the best vintage since 2004. (2011 Penfolds Grange “luxury & icon” wine release Andrew Caillard MW)

James Halliday, who scored the wine 98 points, pronounced 2006 as best vintage in the past 10 years, giving it a drinking window to 2050! (Sweet Release by James Halliday, The Australian, 30 April 2010).

Campbell Mattinson of The Wine Front scored the 2006 Grange 97 points. Here’s a brief excerpt from his review:

It’s not a particularly heralded vintage, in general terms, but the way this release presents in the glass is, to me, what Grange is all about. Impeccable winemaking, pure fruit, clasps of uncompromising tannin, smokin’ barrels, and thrust. It will live for a very long time, because it’s so well designed, and because it does its thing so well. (The Wine Front, 26 April 2011)

Respected British wine critic and Daily Mail wine correspondent Matthew Jukes has published an annual list of the best 100 Australian wines available in the UK market since 2004. He declared the 2006 Grange “a 20/20, perfect wine.” It is only the third wine to receive a perfect score since his 100 Best began. Here’s a brief excerpt from his glowing review:

2006 Grange is perfect in every way – density, tannins, balance, energy, volume, aroma, weight, control, oak and length. It also has style and Read the rest