.. During a recent trip to Australia I had a chance to visit one of the most iconic vineyards in the world. Hill of Grace Vineyard produces legendary Shiraz from 140-year old vines. The curators of the vineyard are Steve and Prue Henschke. I call them 'curators' because when you step in the vineyard, you feel like you're stepping into a museum, including the part where you have to step on sponges full of anti-Phylloxera agent at the entrance. It was a highlight for me because after we shot this video, the sun went down and I saw the Southern Cross for the first time. Not a bad place to see it :)
Steve and Prue are two of the world's foremost experts in each of their respective fields, and they just happened to be married to each other. The Henschke-owned land surrounding the Hill of Grace Vineyard is where Prue's true talent can be realized. She's planted entire forests and maintained complete ecosystems in an effort to give Hill of Grace the ideal conditions to grow world class grapes. If you ever get a chance to see all the plant life Prue has planted over the years, you'll see how dedicated she is to viticulture on their entire property.
And then there's Steve Henschke, who carries the weight of five generations of wine making at Henschke. His family has farmed the land, and produced wines since the mid 1800's. Steve is the current head of winemaking, and steward of the Henschke standard of quality. Steve and Prue have two children who are studying abroad in Germany and New York, but will eventually get involved with the family business. Although they make an iconic wine, they are two of the must hospitable and friendly people you could ever hope to meet. They were very generous with their time (and wine).
WINES TASTED IN THIS EPISODE
1997 Julius Riesling - Didn't see this one coming! I thought I'd show up and taste some Hill of Grace and be impressed. When they busted out the Julius Riesling, it was like being in the boxing ring with a boxer who throws a punch you don't expect. This one blew me away, in part because I'm a slut for good Riesling, but also because the age gave the Julius that exotic petrol, flint, steel character you find in upper echelon German Rieslings. I haven't found those notes in many Australian Rieslings.....none, in fact.
Julius could be the winery's flagship wine if it weren't for Hill of Grace. Absolutely drop dead gorgeous on the nose full of all things naughty: Kerosene, matchstick, golden delicious apple, dried apricot and orange peel unfold in the glass. The mouthfeel was rich and showed exceptional typicity, however, the one thing I was craving was more acidity. It didn't quite have it, but that's unfair because similar Rieslings come from Germany, which is much colder. I found the wine to represent what Riesling should be at the place where it was grown. That's what I'm talkin' about!
1986 Hill of Grace Shiraz - This was the main event. Prue was thinking this bottle had a little variation and wasn't showing its full beauty. I had no problem choking it down, however. What can you say about Hill of Grace? It's almost unfair to try to describe a wine that comes from 140-year old vines, grown by a world-class viticulturist and made by a world-class winemaker. It was elegant, youthful, balanced and showing off a cashmere-sweater silkiness. This is an OMIGOD! wine that you open for people you actually like.
More of a European style than what you'd expect from Australia. Floral notes of red raspberry, cedar and an element I can only describe as the smell you smell when you walk into a shoemaker's shop. Lots of old beat-up leather. In the mouth it doesn't make you think of Aussie Shiraz, maybe more like a Rhone style Syrah. Tantalize your taste buds with lush brooding red raspberry, blueberries, faint tar, spice box and vanilla. This is the kind of wine you let unfold over your palate and just go with it. So beautiful, so pure and made with a sense of history of place. Most likely peaked already so if you got 'em, drink 'em (and invite me and my somm buddies over) :). Cheers!
Peter Gago is the man responsible for creating one of the world's most iconic wines, Penfold's Grange. On a recent visit to Adelaide, Peter was nice enough to sit down and talk about the current vintage as well as share some amazing bottles of wine. During my visit Peter opened a younger Grange from the 2004 vintage along with a 2008 Yattarna Chardonnay and 2004 Block 42 Cabernet.
Peter also gave a tour of Magill Estate, where many of the higher end Penfold's wines are crafted. Pinot Noir grapes were just arriving and being crushed during the visit, so it was a rare opportunity to sit down with one of the world's most famous winemakers: . WINES TASTED IN THIS EPISODE:
2008 Yattarna Chardonnay - Much has been made about this wine being the "white Grange". When Peter mentioned half the fruit was sourced from Tasmania, I got excited because world class Chardonnay's often have higher acidity and less winemaking fluff like overly oaked malo textures. Growing grapes in colder areas that are either higher, or farther away from the equator boost the acid in the wine grapes. It makes a statement to grow half the fruit in their vineyard in Tasmania that's both higher and southerly.
The immediate expression of Yattarna is elegance and refinement. I was thinking it was going to be over the top, but is was very much restrained in the same way automobile designers at Mercedes use restraint when designing a new car. This baby had the Mercedes body with detailed leather seats and fat chrome wheels. It's less oaky and less fruit forward than past vintages. Pouilly-Fuisse lovers would likely enjoy this vintage with its crisp acid backbone, framed up with golden delicious apple, meyer lemon and lees, toasted biscuit notes. You don't have to search for the fruit on your palate, you get it front and center first, followed by refined oak nuances.
2004 Grange - If you've ever had Penfold's Grange, you get a sense of its place in history (and collector's cellars). This is not only one of the most iconic wines in Australia, but also worldwide. From its humble beginnings, Grange has been made as a wine that needed age before drinking. Collectors tuck bottles of Grange away in their cellars without even thinking of touching them for at least ten years, but knowing they'll be rewarded the longer they wait. Over time, Grange develops into a "first growth" type of wine with wonderful Cabernet and Shiraz characters along with exotic spices, shoe leather, cedar and cigar box among other notes.
So it was a bit of a surprise to see the 2004 drinking so well at this stage. I expected it to be a bit closed down, as if asleep in a long slumber. But it was lively and approachable now. It was neither tight nor overly oaked. The 2004 was a decidedly relaxed version of Grange that still exhibited the pedigree you'd expect from Grange. Somewhere along the way it seems Peter realized people want to wait, but not wait their whole life to enjoy Grange.
Dark brooding crimson color in the wine, with so much depth you could get lost staring into the abyss. Dark red fruits waft out of the glass unraveling a mystery of cassis, cocoa, vanilla, stewed plums and tertiary notes of menthol and blueberries. This was cashmere in a glass, exhibiting a more open and refined style than one would expect. It'll only get better with age, but if you have more than one bottle in the cellar take a look at it to see where it is, but also where it's going.
2004 Block 42 Cabernet - As a sommelier and wine blogger, I get to taste all sorts of different wines from around the world. Wine bloggers in general are called upon to share their thoughts, notes and experiences on the wines they taste. When Peter poured this wine everything stopped. This was a wine unlike anything I've ever tried, and quite possibly one of the finest Cabernets I've ever tasted. It was magic in a glass.
As if in a movie, I felt like I was in a slow motion scene drawn out for drama. This wine is not a wine you drink. This is a wine you experience. The Block 42 has only been made four times ever and with good reason. Penfold's uses fruit from the world's oldest operating Cabernet vines to make Block 42 in exceptional years, otherwise the fruit goes into Grange or possibly Bin 707 Cabernet.
I could try to describe what I tasted by pecking away at some tasting notes but my notes wouldn't do justice. The power and finesse on display create an amazing tension between the elements. There was purity and precision as if the winemaking team was saying, "yeah, it's Cabernet from some of the oldest vines in the world". They got out of the way and let the fruit put on a show. Then Peter put an exclamation point on the end and stated the alcohol was only 13.5%. I nearly fell out of my chair. I was guessing it was closer to 15% based on how much impact came across. I hope to be able to try this wine again in my lifetime....what a treat!
It's harvest time in the Victoria wine growing region. Although winemakers are hard at work bringing in 2011 vintage grapes, many of them took time out of their day to bring wines to Brown Brothers winery for an afternoon of wine tasting. Did I say wine tasting? I meant rapid-fire one wine a minute lighting round tasting. With limited time, what took place was something more along the lines of speed dating than enjoying wine.
Over the course of two hours, I tasted about 30 still wines and 7 stickies. Victoria is a vast wine growing region with some of Australia's historic wineries. One of my personal longtime favorite wineries is Tahbilk, famous for having the world's largest Marsanne vineyard. Some of the sub regions of Victoria are Yarra Valley, Rutherglen, Heathcote, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and King Valley. Brown Brothers, located in King Valley is one of Australia's First Family's of Wine with roots tracing back to the 1800's. Located about 3 hours northeast of Melbourne, King Valley is a surprisingly diverse growing area with flat lands and high elevations. It's predominantly a cool climate with above average rainfall with a wide ranch of soils, including alluvial parent soil, some balsalt as well as shallow sandstone.
The wines poured at Brown Brothers were impressive in both the varied selection of grape varietals, but also the quality of wine. We started with Prosecco's, graduated to whites, moved on the reds and then finished with the VGS (Very Good Shit) stickies aka fortified wines. Here's a smattering of wines tasted:
PROSECCO (new website for King Valley Prosecco Road):
Booyah! Right out of the gate we're off on the right foot. Brown Brothers Prosecco NV is grown at a higher elevation of 500 meters above sea level which is approximately 16 inches. No wait, I didn't carry the '1' when converting from the metric system. The grapes were grown at 1640 ft. above sea level, and you know what I love about that? Acidity. Cold climate plus high elevation equals the kind of bubbles I like. Crisp, clean, green apple and pear with some elegant Easter flower notes.
Dalz Otto Pucino Prosecco NV - Pale, Pale almost water color. Asian pear, white flowers, Charmat stye. Light, delicate, green apple. Dalz Otto family came from Italy...brought their wines with 'em
Ciccone Estate Prosecco NV - Tangerine peel, white flowers, medium acid, crisp, clean, fuji apple. Elevation 420 meters. Food: fruit fondue
Sam Miranda 2010 Prosecco - Dry, pear, mineral, Med acid, drier style, lower sugar. Single vineyard. Sam Miranda was a cool dude. Really liked him. Food pairing: gnocchi, blue vein cheese, poached prawns
Sam Miranda 2010 Arneis - Pale straw color. Pear, yellow flowers, almonds, sherbet, great summer drink welcome at any table. Medium acid. Longer finish/Phenolic. Food pairing: Prawn Pizza.
Brown Brothers 2010 Vermentino - Here's a cool thing this winery does that no other winery in the world does (that I know of): They have a building called the Kindergarten winery. This is a full sized facility larger than many wineries that's dedicated solely to experimentation. Winemakers come from around the world to fill test tanks with experimental lots, fermentation techniques or new grape varieties. The BB Vermentino became a product in the lineup after first being a test batch in the Kindergarten winery. Pretty cool.
Feathertop 2010 Vermentino - Green apple, natural acid, longer ferment. Comes from the same vineyard as the Brown Brothers Vermentino with a touch of their own fruit. Asian Pear, lemon peel. Longer, pleasant finish. Food: Salmon Carpaccio
Pizzini 2010 Verduzzo - Tannic white, Red golden delicous apple, medium minus acid, lees stirring in barrel for added richness, slight vanilla, baked pears, thick skin grape... Have to hand pick ‘cause you’ll lose too much juice and the wine will easily become too tannic.
*Fighting Gully Road 2009 Aquila - Wine was inspired by personal favorite, Mas de Dumas Gassac from Landguedoc. Blend of Chard, Viognier & Petit Manseng. Straw color, no oak. Flint, wet rock, Full mouthfeel of fun. Medium acid. Tropical fruits, Lychee. This is the kind of wine you bring out for your wine geek friends. One of my favorites of the day. In speed dating terms, I'd take this one out on the town.
All Saints Estate 2009 Marsanne - golden colored. medium-minus acid. Cuttings from Tahbilk. Underrated, red golden delicious apple, honeysuckle. Food: seafood, but not too fatty. Shrimp Scampi
Sorrenberg SauvBlanc/Semillon 2010 - Organic and orgasmic. When I worked at St. Supéry winery in Napa, we had a wine called Virtu. This very much reminded me of Virtu. The aromatics of the Sauvignon Blanc combined with the fattier mouth feel of the Semillon are a ying and a yang to each other.
Savaterre Chardonnay 2008 - When you read the notes, "Golden, Green apple, pear, flinty wet rock, malo, french oak, spice box, medium acid" it doesn't do it justice. This wine was really pleasant and elegant. Malo and oak were there, but refined.
Giaconda Chardonnay 2008 - Golden, no green hue, Mersault-esque, flinty wet rock, green apple, matchstick, supple and round with medium acid. Lots of finesse and X-factor. A bit on the pricy side at $120 considering the Savaterre is grown across the street with similar presence at $60.
La Zona 2010 Tempranillo - Nice Tempranillo not overly oaked, very easy to drink. Well done for $22. Not over the top, has finesse. The lower amount of oak made this a "drink now" wine. You could taste the grape expressing its dark cherry and plum notes.
*Fighting Gully Road 2006 Tempranillo - dark brick color, bigger, cedar, tobacco, dried red cherry. Right in the pocket at 14%, could go another 15 yrs. More Spanish in style. Considering the La Zona is a "drink now" wine with less oak, this one is a contrast...more of a "need to age" version of Tempranillo. The bigger style with more oak did it justice because the age mellowed it out into a stunner. Both Fighting Gully wines are on my short list.
Brown Brothers Montepulciano Heathcote 2009 - Brand new release made only from 7 year old vines. Beautiful expression of the grape—this baby is going to age beautifully. Older oak barriques used in production. This wine showed so much complexity and X-Factor at such a young age, but it's going to be drop dead gorgeous in a few years. Lay it down, which is where my mind would be in speed dating if this was sitting across the table from me.
Brown Brothers Tempranillo/Graciano 2009 - Another stunner with very little age on it. Dark violet color, red raspberry, stewed plum, cherry filling from pie. A little on the sweeter side, which would be perfect with my Flank Steak w/ Chimchurri recipe.
*Stanton & Kileen The Prince 2008 Reserva Rutherglen - 12.8% ALC very much along the lines of Crasto Douro Red from Portugal, probably because it has some of the same grapes. Savory earthy characters, Dark, raspberry color, love this one! Simon Killeen 7th generation winemaker wanting to introduce different varietals into the family business. One of my faves from the speed dating round.
The Sixties Block 2009 Campbells - Tempranillo, Graciano, Carignan, - orange peel, cinammon, red dried cherry, sweeter, earthy, raspberry. Really intriguing blend of grapes...so distinct in its make up and character. Food Pairing: Orange Beef Chinese Food, Venison Carpaccio
Savaterre 2008 Pinot Noir - Light brick, nice elegant, raspberry, faint orange peel. Light and pleasant, silky smooth like a baby's butt. Winemaker was a real character and says he's the laziest winemaker. He just gets out of the way of the fruit during harvest.
*Castagna 2008 Genesis Syrah - After blowing through all these wines, it wasn't until the last still wine that I found the girl I wanted to take home to Momma. The Castagna Syrah is my wine of the tasting for many reasons. We're in Australia, and they're calling this 'Syrah'. Cofermented with 2% Viognier, this gem has Cote Rotie written all over it. Beautiful "shit my pants" good, spice box, chocolate covered raspberry goodness. Some wines are like a wool sweater on your tongue, this one is like cashmere. Goes beyond just being a glass of wine and becomes an experience.
Overall, the quality level of the wines were superb. More than that, there's rich history here with family traditions and people who are dedicated to making world class wine. Australia has heard us loud and clear, and the wines are responding. Lower alcohol, more finesse and sophisticated labels are all things we don't associate with Aussie wines in the U.S.
I really would have liked to have spent more time with each person to get to know them a little better. It wasn't really fair to just blow through the way we did. But hopefully we'll all see each other again, or at least online. Stay tuned for the next post where I compare tasting through stickies to Bruce Lee's Game of Death..