The Power…and the Glory – Australia Day Tasting, London 2018

I hadn’t been to the annual ADT event in London for a few years and coming back to it didn’t really feel like being away. Crowded (okay, really popular), quite hot (an issue for some of the red wines, with high alcohol wines showing less well as a result), and with plenty of the cliché red wines which put power above all else. But having got the negatives out of the way, there was plenty to try and to like. Some glorious wines alongside the big, powerful, ones.

I’ll start off with what for me were the most interesting and exciting tables, which by odd coincidence were grouped together in a corner of the same room. After that I’ll look at some of the classics, or at least those classics which interest me (those showing subtlety and finesse, perhaps), with a few more new discoveries merged in as well.

The ADT is always a great social event, but quite a few people greeted me with “I didn’t expect to see you here”. I think I’m getting a reputation for writing about natural wines, but I’d like to say that I’m no fundamentalist when it comes to added sulphur. I’d also like to point out that a fair few of the producers I’m covering here are what one might call “naturalistas”, certainly low intervention winemakers, and most of the rest I mention have at least some consideration of what they are using out in the vines and in the winery.

DAL ZOTTO

Christian Dal Zotto was over to help Red Squirrel promote his, and brother Michael’s, delicious wines, both sparkling and still. Christian’s father, Otto Dal Zotto, grew up in Valdobbiadene and when he emigrated to Australia Prosecco was always on his mind. Now, two of his sons make some of the most exciting sparkling wines in Australia, not least because they don’t blindly follow their adopted country’s blind affair with “traditional method” fizz. Dal Zotto are based in Whitfield, Victoria, with all fruit coming from the King Valley.

Pucino Col Fondo 2016 is a traditionally cloudy wine made from the Prosecco grape (now known as Glera in Italy). It’s a fizzy fruit bomb, a delicious wine. I’d go as far as saying forget Prosecco and buy this, though you’ll pay almost £30 for this level of quality…and sheer fun.

If fun is the object, Pink Pucino NV is certainly up there too. This gentle sparkler blends “Prosecco” with Moscato. Its 16.5g of residual sugar makes it seem off-dry, but this is also down to the Moscato element adding light fruitiness – “Extra Dry” is the traditional designation of Prosecco in Italy, rather than the dryer “Brut”, and that allows up to 17g/litre r/s. So whether you say off-dry or fruity, it’s a great hot weather fizz, and only 9.1% abv (the white Pucino runs with 11.4%).

There were two dry whites on show, a lovely, refreshing stone fruit and pear flavoured Arneis (more fruity than your average Piemontese version), and an equally fruity Garganega. The red Sangiovese (all 2016) is fruity too, probably shockingly so to a Tuscan native, but with a nice long textured finish. A very Australian interpretation.

Christian is a great bloke and a very enthusiastic advocate for his family’s wines. If you want to head somewhere else in Australia in terms of sparkling wine, this is one route which you should consider picking up.

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Christian, with Nik (of importer Red Squirrel)

PIZZINI

Pizzini are based in the King Valley too, and lo and behold they are cousins of the Dal Zottos. The wines in this case are imported directly by Vagabond Wines and before writing about the wines on taste, I’d like to mention that Vagabond are also bringing in the wines of my mate Brad Hickey of Brash Higgins (or at least some of them at this point). They are currently on the ocean, so were not available here, but the Brash Higgins range is one to try when they do finally arrive.

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Pizzini King Valley Arneis 2016 is a little bit of a contrast to the Dal Zotto version. It has a very big, perfumed, bouquet and finishes with an edge of bitter quince. Different styles but the same quality. The next white is made from the traditional Veneto variety, Garganega (2017). The nose is, by contrast to the Arneis, more closed, but the palate is subtle with nice rounded fruit and another bitter touch on the finish.

Four still reds were on the table. Sangiovese “Nonna Gisella” 2016 is quite intensely meaty with something resembling iron. But there’s fruit too. Sangiovese “Pietra Rossa” 2015 is a year older, spending time in old oak. It has more structure than the previous wine but is actually quite elegant too. I’d give this a little time.

There is a King Valley Sagrantino 2012 which, despite its age (spent in old oak), has been no more tamed by time than you’d expect a Sagrantino from the motherland to be. Deep-coloured, with spice and length, big legs, 13.8% abv, and abundant tannins. Nebbiolo from 2013 is a typical brick red colour, very much varietally recognisable on the nose, and polished. It also still needs time, though. The Nebbiolo is the oldest fruit on the estate, planted in the 1970s, and of course King Valley is an important location for this grape variety in Australia.

Last, but by no means least is King Valley Brachetto 2017. I have a big soft spot for Brachetto, partly from Piemontese holidays, and partly because a 5.5% off-dry fizz makes a perfect lunchtime palate tickler for those who need to hit the keyboard again in the afternoon. Precise and fresh, red-fruited, really very good indeed, and only around £15.

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THE KNOTTED VINE

This is a merchant’s table, and you may remember that I first tried David Knott’s portfolio at the Out of the Box Tasting in Clerkenwell last year. David imports a lovely small range of low production, artisan wines, with real excitement on offer. I’m only going to mention five wines, due to space, but if you’ve not tried any of the Knotted Vine wines, take a look. The names will be completely unfamiliar to most people, but bravery and a spirit of exploration is exactly what I know my readers possess.

Koerner is a Clare Valley label, and David was showing a 2016 Sangiovese labelled by its island iteration, Nielluccio, along with a younger Pigato 2017, which I tasted. Pigato is, of course, the Ligurian name for Vermentino (though some Ligurians bottle both, just to confuse us). This was a good opener, fragrant on the nose but with a little more body than the bouquet suggested. Less acidity than your average Ligurian too.

La Violetta “Spunk Nat” 2017 is a pétillant-naturel style of fizz which is a wild blend of Shiraz and Riesling from Mount Barker in Western Australia. It’s basically just a good fun, cloudy glass of wine. At £26 it might put a few people off (and maybe the name might shock a few of the more conservative wine buyers), but that would be a shame. Wine like this, which provides straightforward, yet exciting, drinking pleasure without commercial blandness should be encouraged. £26 for all that pleasure is no big price to pay.

Pick of the still whites for me was David Franz “Long Gulley Ancient 129 Year Old Vine” Barossa Valley Semillon 2015. David Franz is Peter Lehmann’s youngest son and he’s making some cool wines. This has nice rounded mouthfeel, plump fruit and a delicious savoury quality. I also enjoyed his Barossa Valley Grenache 2015 which sees French oak. It had a savoury quality, like the Semillon, with an additional touch of eucalypt.

By way of contrast, the last wine I’ll mention here is arriving in the UK soon, Flor Marché “Longley” Pinot Noir 2015, from Margaret River. Elizabeth Reed Graduated in 2001, and established a wine project in Montsant (Spain). She began working back in Australia in 2010, building a range of wines from around WA. This 2015 is quite classical – earthy, savoury, quite meaty and dark for Pinot, with enticing fruit. It’s something I’d very much like to contemplate a bottle of, rather than a mere tasting sample.

GARAGISTE

Garagiste is a new label to me, from Mornington Peninsula. They produce relatively small batches of sub-regional specific varietals, and I tried three whites and one red.

Côtier Sauvignon Blanc 2016 has a lovely nose and some depth on the palate, with toned down acids. Côtier Gewurztraminer 2016 has a pale bronze colour and is clearly Gewurz on the nose, but the palate is clean, no hint of the confected quality that can mar New World versions (perhaps underlining that the Peninsula can be quite “cool climate” for Australia).

My favourite of the whites was La Stagiaire Chardonnay 2016. The region produces some very good Chardonnays, slightly leaner than the Australian cliché, but not too lean. This has a balance of calm acidity and good fruit, with length.

La Stagiaire Pinot Noir 2016 is on the bright cherry spectrum, good fruity young Pinot with a bit of grip. The range is not cheap (all wines £25), but the way Mornington wines seem to be going (see later), they are relatively cheaper than most. Alliance Wine is the importer.

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LARRY CHERUBINO

Having enjoyed a number of Cherubino wines over the past couple of years, especially the Fiano below, I thought I’d try a few here. First, the Apostrophe Stone’s Throw White from Great Southern Region, WA. It blends Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, is fresh and lively and very good value for £13.49 rrp.

The Cherubino “Laissez Faire” wines combine reasonable commercial quantities with a little artisan flair, and they are all recommended at under £20. The Fiano here was a 2016, which is nicely aromatic and with a little body, and hails from the Frankland River Region. In the same range is a Porongorup Riesling 2015 which has varietal character and depth of fruit. A Laissez Faire Field Blend 2016 seemed the most interesting of the three. The constituent parts are Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Gris. The acidity is fresh to brisk (maybe from the last variety?) and it has a tiny bit of residual sugar. Yet there’s also a teasing hard edge which suggests it might get some interesting complexity in a few months.

I also tried Fox Gordon Adelaide Hills “Princess” Fiano 2016 as a contrast to the Cherubino. Difficult to say which I liked most, but if you want a little more freshness in your Fiano, this is the one to choose.

Hallgarten Druitt import Larry Cherubino and Fox Gordon.

ENOTRIA AND COE – KOOYONG, HENSCHKE and MOUNT PLEASANT

Kooyong is without doubt one of my favourite producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, not just on Mornington Peninsula, but in the whole of Australia. Today I had the chance to taste their two entry level wines, which retail around £20. This pair don’t serve up great complexity, but I think they offer pretty good value for Aussie cool climate wines.

Kooyong Clonale Chardonnay 2016 has a certain lightness to it. There’s freshness, and you could say it lacks a little depth, but remember the price. It will also improve a touch, even though the wines at this level are not intended for cellaring. Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir 2016 is a wine with high-toned, tasty cherry fruit. There’s a bit of tannin and it finishes well for this level.

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Henschke is a name which needs no introduction, one of the family estates at the pinnacle of Australian wine. We all know the famous wines, but I’ve always had a thing for Julius Eden Valley Riesling. Here we were trying the 2016, which shows off this vintage well, 2016 being described by most commentators as a great classic Riesling vintage in South Australia. This is very young, and such Rieslings should never be consumed at this age, but the concentrated lime and citrus peel is there, with mineral depth (off loam, gravel and clay). Cellaring of up to 25 years is recommended, but being serious, please give it ten, at least.

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Mount Pleasant is the family homestead in the Hunter Valley of McWilliam’s Wines. This Pokolbin winery was one of the first wine properties I ever visited in Australia (it was either this or Tyrrell’s on the same day), and looking back on it I had a cracking tasting of some aged Hunter Valley classics (which they always seem to pull out if they know you are passionate about wine).

The Hunter is of course the home of a fantastic, and unique, style of Semillon. Mount Pleasant Elizabeth 2007 is always released with age. For me this is often one of Australia’s best value white wines. Whilst others have rocketed in price, this is still available for under £20. Refreshing lemon and lime flavours  (a touch of Rose’s Lime Cordial – they always used to call this Hunter Valley Riesling in the bad old days and you can see why) are matched with extract and a certain presence which is so hard to describe. Quality has gone up and down, but this is good. The Lovedale Semillon 2011 is altogether bigger, finer, more impressive, but is more than a little more expensive…though still very decent value at £35, for cellaring.

I’d not tried a Philip Shiraz for many years. Named, along with Elizabeth, after our current Royal Family’s first visit to Australia in 1954, it is a small batch cuvée which is said to exhibit the Hunter Valley style. Whilst there is a certain meaty quality to it, there’s also more plum and dark fruit than I recall of old. There’s peppery spice, and a bit of oak. The 14% alcohol actually seems to add character. It’s quite difficult to believe that it comes with a RRP of £14.50.

I’m not sure Scott had a beard when I was at Mount Pleasant, Hunter Valley!

I apologise for passing Tyrrell’s, who had half-a-dozen wines on show, including The Hunter’s other great Semillon. With 77 crowded tables, many with multiple producers, it’s difficult to try everything.

TEN MINUTES BY TRACTOR

I visited TMBT on Flinders Road, Main Ridge, a decade ago, when they seemed a relatively new name on Mornington Peninsula, but I’ve not drunk any of their wines for a couple of years, so I thought I’d go through the whole range. I began tasting with Julia from importer Bancroft Wines, then owner/winemaker Martin Spedding came back from lunch and I continued with him.

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The range roughly divides into three – 10X is a Mornington Peninsula brand, then we move a step up for the “Estate” Pinot/Chardonnay, using fruit just from Main Ridge. Finally we have three single block wines (Judd, McCutcheon and Wallis) for both varieties, with the addition of Coolart Road for Pinot Noir.

The two 10X bottlings are nice entry level wines, the 2016 Chardonnay in a lighter style (though it does show 14% abv on the label), and the Pinot Noir showing pleasant high-toned fruit. The Estate Chardonnay 2015 is a little more serious but also needs time. I noticed the alcohol slightly more, but you also get a lot more for your dollar. The Estate Pinot Noir 2015 seems more serious, and in terms of quality is a step up on the 10X.

All seven single vineyard wines express their terroirs differently. I preferred the Judd Chardonnay 2015 which did feel like a fine wine from a relatively cool climate region (2015 seems to have been hailed as a very good vintage for both varieties on the Peninsula). McCutcheon seemed more mineral and perhaps Wallis showed more fruit?

For Pinot, Wallis 2015 had a breadth of lovely fruit as well (a vineyard characteristic?), McCutcheon had nice fruit too but more grip, and Judd won me over by its latent complexity…but it may need more time than the others. Coolart Road is a vineyard down at Moorooduc/Teurong (“down the hill”), with well drained, warmer, soils and fruit that ripens a little earlier. This is quite different, obviously more accessible with slightly stewed strawberry fruit and an earthy quality.

The Coolart Road wine certainly has appeal, as do all the other single vineyard wines from TMBT, those others perhaps requiring some bottle age to show their complex best. But the prices are eye watering now ~ £30 for the 10X wines, £40 for the estate bottlings and £55 for the single vineyards.

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There is also a multi-vintage bottle-fermented Chardonnay sparkler (not listed) now as well (which I never knew existed). Quite full in body and dry (3g/l dosage, Extra Brut style), it’s a little different, and I’d say probably very good accompanying food. I enjoyed my small taste and would be tempted to try a bottle if I saw one.

I should mention, for potential visitors to the region, that the restaurant at TMBT has a very good reputation, and its wine list has won awards (including three stars in the World of Fine Wine Wine List Awards since 2015). The TMBT web site also contains many suggestions for other dining options, cellar doors, and “things to do” on Mornington Peninsula, well worth checking out (and perhaps noting their warning about local taxi services). On balance, considering the food and the beaches as well as the wines, this is probably my favourite Australian wine region to visit, though when in Melbourne I’d not miss Yarra as well.

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HOUSE OF ARRAS

On the subject of sparkling wines, Fine Wine Partners were showing House of Arras Grand Vintage 2008, an award winning Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend which I think I saw three times, dotted around the tasting halls. It has real class and focus, genuine lees ageing style and at around £35 is another sparkler well worth checking out. A very different style to the TMBT wine above. It was also, sadly, the only Tasmanian wine I got to try, although from previous experience I can recommend Ministry of Clouds Chardonnay (imported by Knotted Vine) as a left-field choice. I missed Dalrymple, and was otherwise engaged on the Liberty Wines spread of tables, where Tolpuddle was located. But with all the press Tasmania is finally getting, a Tasmanian Tasting would be seriously interesting.

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LIBERTY WINES

I can remember a long time ago, when David Gleave left Italian specialist Winecellars (which eventually, down a long road, became Enotria and Coe), he founded Liberty Wines. Almost immediately one saw some great Australian additions in the range, and their continued strength here was plainly evidenced by them taking several tables along one long wall of Room 2 at the ADT. One of the more recent additions to that portfolio is LAS Vino.

LAS Vino is the label of Nic Peterkin (son of Mike Peterkin, of Pierro, and nephew of Vanya Cullen). Some readers may recall I enjoyed one of Nic’s wines at Brunswick House back in December, his “CBDB” blend of Chenin, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. I was therefore looking forward to a taste of the pair Liberty was showing.

LAS Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2015 is largely fermented in stainless steel, with 15% in new oak, and is bottled unfiltered. It tasted quite “natural”, with a very tiny bit of volatility, but lots of character and I liked it best out of the two on show.

“The Pirate Blend” 2014 takes three Portuguese varieties, Tinta Cão (for aromatics), Touriga Nacional (for elegant depth) and Souzão (as Nic says, the darkest berries give the sweetest fruit). It is sappy, textured and a little tannic right now. An interesting wine, but a little hard to judge on account of the slightly hard edge there. I’d like to try this with a bit more age, a vigorous decant, and/or something “meaty” to eat. LAS is definitely a name to check out if you haven’t already.

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There are a few producers who you have to try at a Liberty Tasting, but here I had to make some choices. So no Shaw + Smith, Tolpuddle, Charles Melton, Cullen…but I did taste Grosset, SC Pannell and Clonakilla.

Jeffrey Grosset has long made my favourite Australian Rieslings, and I do have one or two older wines secreted away. It is well worth making sure that you don’t drink these wines too young, especially the Polish Hill bottling. Back in December I drank a 2013 which a friend brought to lunch at the Draper’s Arms in Islington, which I think was very young. By contrast, I took a 2004 to dinner in August, which was singing.

2017 is yet another in a line of superb vintages in Clare and Watervale, it seems. Polish Hill Riesling is incredibly youthful, as expected, with extract, texture and the most concentrated lime fruit imaginable. I heard someone say they didn’t like it, but you can like Grosset PH at less than a year old no more than you can truly like Chateau Latour at the same age. Likewise, the Springvale 2017, except that this wine always drinks sooner, ages hardly less well in my experience, and as the price seems to become more differentiated over time (£26 as against £34 for PH), there’s a lot to be said for looking here for value.

Alea is the newest addition to the Grosset Riesling range, and they claim that the 2017 is the best yet. It comes from a tiny Watervale vineyard called Rockford, said to measure just 23×30 metres, on red loam. They claim it is a more “European style” and in fact according to The Wine Society, Jeff says it’s his “most Germanic” wine. Right now it is dominated by more of that classic lime acidity, but the technical details suggest that may be hiding a little residual sugar. Very impressive, another great advertisement for the vintage, and as this comes in at just 12% alcohol and a full quid less than Springvale I will be looking out for a bottle or two.

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Why SC Pannell you ask? Because way back when, this producer introduced me to my first Australian Nebbiolo, and I bought it regularly for a time. Every occasion when I drink a SC Pannell wine I generally think it pretty good for the money. And remember that Steve has been Australian Winemaker of the Year (2015), and is a Jimmy Watson Trophy Winner (Adelaide Hills Syrah 2013). So with three wines to try here, I ploughed in.

The SC Pannell “The Vale” McLaren Vale Grenache/Shiraz 2016 rather ploughed into me, if I’m honest. I know balance is what’s important but as a lily livered drinker of low alcohol reds, the 14.7% of alcohol (that, at least, is what the label said) was not really for me. But lest you think me a weakling, the other two wines were labelled at 14% and were much more to my taste.

These were McLaren Vale Grenache-Shiraz-Touriga Nacional 2016 and McLaren Vale Tempranillo-Touriga Nacional 2016. I favoured the latter, the perfumed and sweet fruited Tempranillo balancing a bit of heft, and tannin, from the Touriga. This particular wine, winner of many show medals in the past, does have a good long life ahead of it. It retails for less than £20. You can still get the Nebbiolo, but at twice the price.

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If you were to ask me to name my favourite “classic” Australian producer I won’t say it would be easy, but I’m reasonably sure that Clonakilla would be my answer. I’ve followed this estate for decades, since a visit to the Canberra Region back in 1988. For many years I was lucky enough to buy the famous Shiraz/Viognier from Adnams of Southwold, then later the wine that became Hilltops, with fruit from Young in New South Wales (just over the State border). A beautiful Viognier (previously, but possibly no longer, seen in Fortnums in London) is one of Clonakilla’s best kept secrets.

Liberty Wines were showing the two reds plus Clonakilla Canberra District Riesling 2017. This is beautifully defined, young but one of the most approachable Rieslings I tried at the ADT this year. It’s not the cheapest at around £30, but if you fancy a change from Grosset…

Hilltops Shiraz has had its ups and downs, especially with regard to fruit availability in the more distant past. It’s also fair to say that some critics have passed Hilltops over when praising the more famous estate wine. This is somewhat unfair. Hilltops will set you back £25 for this 2016 –  high toned, black fruited, spicy Shiraz which is usually relatively easy to drink at just a few year’s age.

Contrast that to the £90 you will pay for the Canberra District Shiraz/Viognier 2016. For me, this is one of Australia’s finest wines, even if it doesn’t have the cachet of a Grange or a Hill of Grace in some quarters. A well aged example is so complex, and it is oddly enough one of the few wines of this type where you truly do see the Viognier influence in both lifting the palate as well as in the perfume of the wine.

It has a much bigger nose than Hilltops for starters, with, most noticeably, more spice and greater depth. I doubt I will be buying this again at this price, but I wish I could. Just a couple of older bottles left chez-moi, and I will have to savour them. Back in 2016 a 2005 vintage was more than sublime.

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That’s almost the end of the Tasting. I did visit the room of Australia’s Top 50, a merchant led selection, whittled down from 200 supplier recommended wines. Almost all the bottles were empty. The one I most wanted to reacquaint myself with was Pike’s “Traditionale” Riesling 2016, which I recall used to knock me back about a tenner not too many moons ago (£18.75 now from Seckford). But whilst there were undoubtedly good wines there, the room was full of young men attacking the bottles like the starlings attack the fat balls on our bird feeder, and what summed the room up for me was hearing a couple of guys saying how they’d always wanted to taste Mollydooker “Two Left Feet” (“a regular top-scoring wine with Wine Spectator”).

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I’m being unfair, so unlike me. There were plenty of good wines in that Top-50, just not on the whole my kind of kit. Yet the conclusion I would draw is that (I suppose unsurprisingly) the Australian Export Bodies do favour a certain traditional view of their country’s wine, in particular their red wines. What are perhaps the most exciting wines from Australia are often hard to get hold of. They come in through specialist retailers in small quantities.

But we have seen a lot of great wines here, both from among the classics (Clonakilla and Grosset are just two examples of truly world class producers), and some of the new producers (Dal Zotto, Pizzini and the almost obscure producers The Knotted Vine and others are bringing in), which at least show the wider trade that there is a different kind of thrill to be found, if you dig a little. Perhaps we should be happy that the wild men of the Adelaide Hills and elsewhere are, in fact, still under the radar. But if you ask your trusted small independent they will surely have a few tips.

 

 

 

 

About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
This entry was posted in Australian Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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