Thursday, August 27, 2009


Well, Beck and myself are off to the Margaret River for a week, to sample, taste and buy wines from what I believe is Australia's best performing wine region at present (I wonder how many fellow South Australian agree with me on that - I've already had one argument with a local I brought it up with!), so there'll be no posts for a little while.
Unfortunately, I've come down with a cold in the last few days, so there have been some late changes to my itinerary, most notably no trip to the Frankland River/Great Southern regions. It's a real shame but I feel I truly need a couple more days to get better before I can really start enjoying wine again.
When I do return though, you can guarantee there'll be plenty of cellar door impressions, tasting notes, the odd wine review and even a winery restaurant review or two, as we've already booked lunches at Leeuwin Estate and Voyager Estate.
So I hope nobody minds if the focus of this site switches to the Margaret River for a bit!
Sayonara, for now.


- Coonawarra, SA
- $59-$90
- Screwcap
- 14.0%alc

After a brief hiatus due to vineyard rejuvenation, Wynns' John Riddoch has returned with a series of sterling wines starting from 2003 (95pts). Following on with even better wines from 2004 (96pts) and 2005 (97pts), the John Riddoch certainly stakes a claim to being Coonawarra's premier drop.

Very even and elegant for young Coonawarra cabernet, the 2006 John Riddoch's aroma represents the winemaking skill of Sue Hodder, exhibiting great depth, poise and balance. Displaying both red and dark fruit tones, it unravels a slightly restrained yet plush fragrance of red plum, mulberry and currants with a polished extract of vanilla/cedar oak. The palate announces itself with beautiful elegance, smoothness and concentration, before going on to reveal a delightful undercarriage of savoury quality underlining its lusciously fruited base. It finishes strongly, with mouthfilling flavour and exceptional structure, encompassed by powerful, drying tannins building in waves towards a conclusion of almost never ending length.

ü+ Another superlative John Riddoch; a real 'whole-mouth' experience. Certainly one to hide away in the cellar for a long time. Drink 2018-2031.
95 points

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


 - South Australia
 - $42-$70
 - Screwcap
 - 14.5%alc

I previously reviewed the 2006 Bin 389 on the 27th of February, 2009, awarding it 92 points. Although pleasantly balanced and rustic, it seemed fairly closed and in dire need of more time. So, with 6 months having passed, I feel now is a good time to give the 2006 'Baby Grange' another look. 

Somewhat closed in its youth, this Bin 389 opens slowly to a rustic, savoury fragrance, with redcurrant, dark plum, clove and cinnamon aromas influenced by a fresh leafy/menthol-like aspect and dark chocolate/cedar oak. Despite being a fraction thin throughout the mid-palate, it reveals an excellent marriage of dark fruit and savoury, meaty flavours, as seasoned cedar oak characters accentuate the wine with a firm cut of positively sandy tannins into a long and dry finish, punctuated by lingering nuances of ripe fruit and herb. Typical of the label, structure is excellent.

ü Quite refined and elegant now, the 2006 Bin 389 requires a few more years yet to unfold and reveal its best. It does look a little better than it did 6 months ago, with a touch more interest to both its aroma and flavour profiles. Drink 2016-2026.
93 points

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Hyatt Regency, Adelaide

Believe it or not, I've never been to a Coonawarra Roadshow in Adelaide before. I attended the Brisbane event last year, but to be quite frank, I've previously not seen the point really.

From a tourist's point of view, Coonawarra IS my favourite South Australian wine region. I usually visit once a year, hence; no need to attend any lavish, industry tastings flocked to by the masses.

There is something absolutely beautiful about the complete isolation of Coonawarra. You have to drive over 4 hours from Adelaide to get there, and when you do arrive, you tend to find most of the other visitors are Victorian, not South Australian (who would probably be visiting the Barossa or McLaren Vale). All Coonawarra cellar door hands seem to know whoever you are, you've come a long way to drop in on them. You're always treated with the warmest of welcomes at almost every venue.

Coonawarra is a wine obsessive's dream holiday. There is pretty much nothing there but wineries and vineyards, all off one road; the John Riddoch Highway. Wineries are either on the left hand side of the road or the right hand side, simple as that. If you wanna drink wine you're in the right place, if you wanna do anything else; you should've stuck to the main Adelaide-Melbourne highway!

Unfortunately for me, the recent acquisition of a house means my finances aren't as good as they used to be. All of a sudden, industry tastings look more appealing than a 9 hour round trip and week long stay. I think that's what the Coonawarra Roadshow is all about; convenience. Because on a basis of beauty, the Hyatt has nothing on that 20km long, 1km wide stretch of terra rossa found in South Australian's southeast, halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne.


The picturesque Balnaves cellar door comes complete with its own rose garden, duck pond and even the odd giant pumpkin!

If there's one 'smaller' Coonwarra producer that is on everyone lips at the moment it would have to be Balnaves. Unsurprisingly their stand was exceptionally busy early. It really is amazing what being named James Halliday's Winery of the Year can do for a winery's profile. Like almost everyone I felt Balnaves had an incredible 2004 vintage for all reds, but unlike almost everyone, I've found things have been fractionally disappointing since. I found the 2005's of Balnaves to be reasonably good, if a touch essence-like, ripe and concentrated, but the 2006's let me down somewhat. I just found them too firm and blocky for my tastes. In contrast to this, their flagship Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has impressed me with every release, and it thoroughly deserves its growing reputation as a Coonawarra benchmark. One of the highlights for me of last year's Coonawarra Roadshow in Brisbane was getting to meet the kind, bubbly and personable Doug Balnaves. Unfortunately Doug was in Perth on this occasion, leaving the marketing duties to his daughter Kirsty. Also absent was a Balnaves Chardonnay, which at its best is my favourite Coonawarra white. Kirst informed me Balnaves have 150ha of Coonawarra vineyards, most of which usually gets sold to other producers. With the low yields delivered by 2007, Balnaves retained much more fruit for their own wine, which is why most of their range is available in 2007 (unlike a lot of others).

Balnaves The Blend 2007 Beautifully fragrant if a bit simple, with minty overtones to vibrant fruit characters. Light-medium bodied, easy drinking style. Does nothing outstanding but also does nothing offensive. 87

Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Slightly closed aroma with red/black fruits easily overlapped by pronounced seasoned cedar oak. Light-medium bodied palate drops a bit short towards a dry finish. 87

Balnaves The Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Lovely, vividly ripe, almost confection fruit-like nose. Touches of choc-mint and mocha oak woven throughout cassis and violet aromas with floral overtones. Medium-full bodied, palate shows classic Tally concentration and power, with its freshly fruited base leading into a wonderfully long finish marked by sturdy tannins. 95

Bowen Estate is one of Coonawarra's most successful boutique operations. Essentially a father/daughter team, they usually deliver a very focused range which consists of the regional specialties of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, as well as one of the region's more interesting whites with their chardonnay. The 2007 reds are unsurprisingly ripe and meaty, lacking the polish, length and drive of the better seasons. At their best, they're some of the most complex, undervalued wines in Coonwarra.

Bowen Estate Chardonnay 2006 Nutty, buttery, toasty nose with grapefruit characters evident. Its smoothly textured palate shows a refined, slightly idiosyncratic, mineral fruit profile, but lacks the length and drive required for more points. 88

Bowen Estate Shiraz 2007 Ripe, meaty, savoury fragrance with elements of olive. Palate is full and plush but decidedly ripe. 85

Bowen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Savoury, slightly leafy nose with red/plummy fruit. Full-bodied, ripe and meaty, rounded cabernet palate finishes sweet but lacks finesse. 88

McWilliam's Coonawarra outpost has delivered some pretty handy wines lately. I appreciate the extra time they are allowed to develop in the bottle, which benefits their accessibility when young. South Australian McWilliam's rep Sam Brand is great at what he does too, very unique. A wine company representative with a penchant for Nike Air Max - now that's a modern twist I can relate to!

Brand's Laira Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Scented with savoury vanilla oak, mulberries and dark fruit. Has good aromatic lift. Pleasingly juicy, ripe palate announces lashings of fruit flavour before a long, dry finish underscored by herbal undertones. A fine expression of 2005 Coonawarra cabernet at this price. 90

Brand's Laira Steinford's Reserve Shiraz 2005 Richly fruited currant nose with intriguing hints of suede. Does reflect older vine material. Rich palate develops into a pleasingly savoury finish marked by grainy tannins. 91


Hollick house a rare Coonawarra winery/restaurant of modern charm.

Previous to some current selections, I was never a huge fan of Hollick's wine. First, their magnificent 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon turned me on, and now a 2006 Cabernet Merlot of theirs has also grabbed my interest in the right way. Both wines are complete packages. they handsomely display levels of natural balance and elegance which many in the region miss. I'll definitely be paying closer attention to Hollick in the future. That bizarre abnormality in their range, a pinot noir, was unavailable at the Roadshow, not that I actually like it. The representative told me it was because the pinot is now more Mount Gambier than Coonawarra, and the Roadshow IS a Coonawarra event. Hollick are also starting to make some interesting wines from Wrattonbully, which are well worth checking out. The 2006 Shiraz especially.

Hollick Cabernet Merlot 2006 Shows lightly floral aromas of dark plum and violet with a whiff of menthol. Very classy, medium-bodied palate drives with good penetration and length to its dark fruit flavours. Nice tannins. Another 06 success of Hollick. 92

Hollick Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Scented with lovely, fresh, nutty, cedar/mocha and walnut oak, over restrained minty blackcurrants and game meats. Medium bodied, concentrated and classy. Natural, savoury palate contains a fine balance of nutty cedar/vanilla oak, evenly ripened small berry fruits and creamy tannin. Long finish with persistent notes of bright fruit. 94

There are a few things I strongly recognise Katnook Estate for; some good, some not so good. Let's start with the good. Their cellar door is one of the more interesting experiences out there. It's set up kinda like a cocktail bar, with a high bench and black leather bar stools for tasters, it successfully creates a more relaxed, sit down feel, alongside complementary chocolate. I love it in an intriguing way - provided not everyone else starts doing it. It's one of those things which could only work in a quiet, isolated region like Coonawarra. Secondly, I tend to really enjoy Katnook's Sauvignon Blanc. It's easily Coonawarra's best and probably up with the best in South Australia, albeit in a different (yet still unoaked) style. As for the not so good, I associate Katnook with bearing some of the heaviest oaked wines in Australia. A couple of vintages ago their flagship wines were seeing up to 38 months in oak, a trend winemaker Tim told me was being reversed. But having said that the current release Prodigy and Odyssey still see 30-36 months oak treatment (or was it 24-30 months?). I wonder what Andrew Jefford thinks about that! I must thank winemaker Tim for generously pulling out bottles of the $100 pair of Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon and Prodigy Shiraz, which weren't 'officially' available for tasting. Thanks Tim! He also informs me the financial situation under Spanish group Freixenet is fine.

Katnook Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Nice, clean nose with hints of gooseberry fruits, herb, grass and citrus. Very clean, gentle palate shows no offensiveness whatsoever in a pleasing, consumer friendly style. Refreshing acids apparent. 89

Katnook Estate Merlot 2006 Red plum, cherry and vanilla oak aromas. Juicy fruit flavours with sour edges, finishes clean and pleasant. Touch of leafiness evident. 88

Katnook Estate Prodigy Shiraz 2005 Deep, dense colour. Unsurprisingly very oaked nose with savoury fruit undercarriage. Bit of bottle stink apparent. Medium bodied palate shows evenly ripened fruit but it's absolutely covered in lightly spicy cedar/vanilla oak. Finishes with soft creamy tannin. Overall quite a good 2005 Coonawarra shiraz but it is $100. 90

Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Dark, dense colour. Heavily oaked nose with dark currant fruit undertones. Concentrated fruit and olive flavours give way to a dry, woody finish with a lingering note of rich chocolate. Quite a nice wine, with more fruit/oak integration than the younger Prodigy. I wonder how they develop over time. 92

It was good to see Leconfield chief winemaker Paul Gordon in attendance at this event. He was probably the most interesting character of the evening - he reminded me of an old cricket coach I had. I'd love to see more of him in Leconfield's wine, whatever that means. Significantly undervalued, Leconfield's Cabernet Sauvignon has easily been one of the most consistent cabernet sauvignons coming out of Coonawarra from what have been some fairly difficult recent seasons. The 2007 is no exception. The merlot can also be good. 2004 was great, 2005 not so great, 2006 pretty good. So when I saw the 2008 here (notice the even year trend) I had high hopes, but unfortunately it didn't quite match expectations for me. I must also mention Tim Knappstein's son who works behind the Leconfield cellar door in McLaren vale; he's easily one of the best around!

Leconfield Merlot 2008 Lightly fragrant, sweet fruit nose. More light-medium bodied palate, with more sweet, ripe fruit. It finishes dry and seems to be a bit thin throughout. 86

Leconfield Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Nice, elegant, deep nose with savoury tones. Well fruited yet not overdone. Good, even ripeness. Rather sophisticated, medium-bodied palate extends with good penetration and length. Finishes delightfully fine and dry with a framework of powdery tannins. A good 07. 93

One of the more interesting conversations I had during the night was with Lindemans rep Charles, a charming man who shares many of my views on Foster's (interesting yet frankly honest views as an employee Charles!). The Lindemans' Coonawarra wines look relatively sound, if a little uninspiring, considering they all retail around the $50+ mark. It'll be interesting to see how this brand develops, along with the other Foster's Coonawarra brands (other than Wynns), now that some of their key vineyards have been placed on the market for 'leasing'. Personally I'm disappointed that Foster's bring Lindemans but not Mildara to the Coonawarra Roadshow. I've really liked Mildara's wines lately, especially given their price. It appears Mildara's Coonawarra wines are headed in the right direction, even if its brand direction is somewhat uncertain. Maybe next year?

Lindemans St George 2006 Cabernet sauvignon. Deep, settled nose with red/blackcurrant fruits and toasty chocolate oak seems somewhat closed. Fractionally awkward tannins frame a palate which is a bit thin on fruit intensity and depth. Might come together better with time, but I wouldn't take the $50 bet. 89

Lindemans Pyrus 2006 Cabernet blend. Rather elegant, dark fruited nose with sweet vanilla/mocha oak. Medium-bodied and balanced, with good winemaking polish, but doesn't do anything too interesting either. 88

Lindemans Limestone Ridge 2006 Shiraz/cabernet. Presents a good nose with true depth to its dark, currant fruit tones and minty chocolate oak. Pleasingly rich but elegant palate leads into a long, fine and dry finish, which gets tighter as it goes. 92


The Majella cellar door on a beautiful, classic Coonawarra winter's day. You can almost sense the stillness and total isolation.

An interesting lot from Majella, which admittedly, I also tasted about a month ago. After an exceptional 2004 and an almost exceptional 2005, I've been somewhat disappointed with their classic cabernet sauvignon across 2006 and 2007. At the previous tasting the 2008 Musician, which has almost become my favourite Majella wine, really impressed me, but for some reason it failed to do so at the Roadshow. At around $17 a bottle though, I can gladly afford to inspect this deeper. Their 2004 Shiraz intrigues me. It certainly isn't current vintage, but the Roadshow was the second tasting where they've pulled it out. They must have surplus supplies or something. At release I really fell for the 2004 Shiraz, finding it vibrant and richly fruited in true Majella style, as I awarded it 94 points. But for the second consecutive Majella tasting I didn't enjoy it, as it seems to be developing quickly and unevenly. It was pleasing to meet Grantly from Fumo Blu serving the products.

Majella The Musician Cabernet Shiraz 2008 Fresh, vibrant nose, yet possibly a bit thin on fruit. Light-bodied, easy drinking and simple palate. Lacks the brightness and sensual, soft texture of previous Musicians. Could be an aeration issue. 86

Majella Shiraz 2004 Developed significantly since release. Very wafty, barnyard-like nose. Requires better length and penetration. Once again, might've benefited from further aeration? 85

Majella Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Heavily ripened nose with currants, fruitcake and faintly minty, creamy chocolate/vanilla oak. Palate shows suggestions of Majella's trademark radiance and character, but without their classic balance and depth. 88

Parker Coonawarra Estate is a member of the Rathbone group of wineries. To the best of my knowledge the wines are still made by Peter Bissell of Balnaves fame. Their Terra Rossa First Growth Cabernet is one of Coonawarra's most highly rated (and pricey) wines. Parker's Merlot (almost $40 a bottle) can also be excellent, which only added to my disappointment with the 2005 release, especially after the 2004 was about as good a Coonawarra merlot as I've had. Anyone who visits Coonawarra should really check out the Parker cellar door. Even if you don't like their wines, they offer free tastings (with bread and dukkah) of the entire range of Pukara's award winning Hunter Valley olive oils. Absolutely delicious, particularly the garlic infused!

Parker Merlot 2005 Sweetly fruited fragrance with tea-leaf and jammy red fruits evident. Soft, uncomplicated palate is quite uninspiring (especially for $40 merlot). 85

Parker Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Somewhat lively, minty cassis aromas with sweet oak. The palate is a lighter Coonawarra style but without great depth, finishing dry with pronounced tannins and dryness. Lacks genuine balance at this price ($40). 87

Parker Terra Rossa First Growth 2005 Restrained (aeration concern again), even, savoury and slightly earthy nose with ripe dark fruits. Classic Parker toasty French oak evident. Reveals good concentration and depth to its generously ripened fruit flavour but just finishes a little raw. 90

It was good to see Petaluma at this event despite their lack of a physical, cellar door presence in Coonawarra. I firmly believe their Coonawarra is one of the region's best. Young winemaker Peter Dregde delivered their wines in great fashion. Presented were four vintages of the Coonawarra:- the soon to be released 2007, the not so soon to be released 2008, the fantastic, slowly maturing 1999 and a 2003. Peter informed me the 2003 was not originally released but after maturing in the bottle for several years, they felt it was now time. Personally I didn't like the 2003 much, making it rather simple to see their original intentions. It does interest me how wineries work such practices though, I wonder if a different producer might've thrown it away, blended it, cleanskin perhaps? The possibilities are endless....

Petaluma Coonawarra 1999 Medium bodied. Soft, elegant, classic 10 year old cabernet of understated intensity and grace. Shows savoury, drying red berry fruit flavour profile but finishes with outstanding structure and length. Probably only half way into its full development cycle. A great Coonawarra. 95

Petaluma Coonawarra 2007 Released next month. Subdued aroma. Pencil shavings-like oak over savoury dark fruits. Vibrant, medium bodied palate with sour edged fruit and pronounced acidity. 89

Petaluma Coonawarra 2008 Unreleased. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Fresh, fruity, raspberry and cassis aromas. Soft, smooth, juicy palate finishes slightly sweet. 90


The tripled gabled winery of Wynns Coonawarra Estate; one of the most recognisable buildings in Australian wine.

It was only just over a week ago that I posted tasting notes on the Wynns range, but to make this tasting complete I'll re-post them here. I essentially felt my original notes were fairly spot on. Wynns is certainly in top form, with all cabernets, especially the flagship John Riddoch, performing very well. No Michael Shiraz will be released from 2006 and still no sign of that 2009 Riesling....

Wynns Riesling 2008 Lightly spiced aromas of white pear and lemon. The palate is clean and schisty, with the length and crisp acidity few in Coonawarra achieve with riesling. 89

Wynns Chardonnay 2008 A rather simple fragrance of soft peach, melon and lemon fruits, lead into a smooth and clean palate framed by cleansing, brisk, grapefruit-like acids. Good quaffer. 88

Wynns Shiraz 2008 Very distinct Coonawarra shiraz nose. It presents a lightly floral fragrance of redcurrant fruits and black pepper with a hint of leather/tar. Vibrant and medium-bodied, its palate is evenly fruited and particularly appealing, with more refinement and interest than most in its price range. Bargain. 91

Wynns Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Opens to a sinister fragrance of ripe blackcurrants, dark plum, licorice and olive with dusty cedar/mocha oak. Thickly textured, with great drive and concentration, it powers its ripe black fruit/cherry flavours into a long finish of considerable length and impact. A keeper. 93

Wynns Alex 88 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Single vineyard. Perfumed, fragrant nose, with touches of choc-mint over classic cassis and violet aromas. Wonderfully dense and concentrated yet elegant palate, shows pronounced dark fruit flavours wrapped in grippy, powdery tannins. Finishes long and strong. 94

Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Very even, elegant nose shows the skill of Sue Hodder's winemaking. With great depth, poise and balance, it displays red plum, mulberry and currant aromas with polished cedar/vanilla oak in a slightly restrained yet plush fashion. Palate announces itself with beautiful elegance, smoothness and concentration, before revealing a pleasing undercarriage of savoury quality. Contains true mouthfilling flavour and exceptional structure, as its powerful, drying tannins lead into a finish of almost never ending length. Needs time. Highlight of the show. 96

Other than the well known Menzies, Yalumba brought to this tasting a couple of 'cheaper' Coonawarra reds, such as the intriguingly named 'The Cigar'. There was also a barrel sample of the 2008 Menzies available, which has already spent 18 months in oak. I was informed the jury was still out on the 2007 Menzies, which may never see the light of day. If it doesn't, the fruit will be passed onto the previously mentioned reds. Given the top quality of Yalumba's 2007 The Scribbler, which has a similar story behind it, the 2007 Cigar could be one to keep an eye out for.

Yalumba The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Presents minty accents to plush red and dark berry aromas with vanilla oak. Smooth texture offset by firm, pliant tannins. A very nice medium-bodied style. 92

Yalumba The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Barrel sample. Looking quite good and settled but the oak currently sits on top of its fruit, requiring further integration. N/A

Company winemaker Karen did a good job pouring Zema Estate's wines, representing the much desired down to earth, family owned winery approach which Zema demonstrates so well. I highly appreciate how Zema Estate is willing to give their wines more time in the cellar than others, as Coonawarra reds can be a very confronting experience when young. The value packed 2004 Cluny blend of cabernet varieties and 2004 Merlot reinforce what a great year that was for Zema.

Zema Estate Cluny 2004 Fresh, vibrant nose, shows notes of cassis, mint and cedar vanilla oak. Medium weighted body finishes fine and tight, with great structure and shape. Bargain. 92

Zema Estate Merlot 2004 Well fruited nose with pastille blackcurrants, red cherry, leafy herbs and fine cedar/mocha oak evident. Smooth, settled and rich palate, presents good depth of varietal fruit with pleasing olive undertones and long, fine finish. A top Coonawarra merlot, probably best of the night. 91

Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Nice, savoury aromatic expression of red fruit and vanilla/cedar oak. Faintly plush, ripe palate, medium-full in body with good length. 89

Zema Estate Family Selection Shiraz 2004 Richly fruited fragrance of currant fruits, creamy vanilla oak and subtle white pepper apparent. Richness transfers over to palate and although smooth drinking, it just lacks the finesse and tightness of the season's best. 90

Zema Estate Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Rich, plummy, cherry fruit nose with cedar/mocha oak and touch of vanilla spice. Surprisingly elegant, reasonably balanced palate with a clean finish and powdery tannins. Needs more length. 90

Saturday, August 22, 2009


 - Canberra District
 - $40-$49
 - Screwcap
 - 14.0%alc

Established in 1971 by CSIRO research scientist Dr John Kirk, Clonakilla is best known for championing shiraz viognier blends in Australia. Winemaking duties have since passed onto John's son Tim, and Clonakilla is now firmly recognised as one of Australia's elite producers. After frosts decimated much of Clonakilla's 2007 crop, Tim Kirk sourced fruit from other Canberra District growers to make the O'Riada Shiraz. 2% viognier is added to a wine which spent 12 months in French oak (35% new).

Faintly perfumed and musky, it elegantly unfolds to a savoury expression of redcurrants, cherries, aniseed and white pepper, backed by a glorious touch of fresh and fragrant, fine French oak. Medium-bodied yet supremely sophisticated, with savoury edges binding layers of exotic redcurrant/dark cherry flavour, its silky palate progresses into a sensual finish coated by an understated influence of powdery tannins gently tip-toeing throughout the mouth. Persisting undertones of game meats and licorice linger well into the aftertaste with an accompaniment of spice characters.

üExceptionally stylish, balanced, savoury and seamless; this is a highly addictive proposition. It's exactly the type of Australian shiraz the wine drinking world needs to be more aware of. Drink to 2019.
94 points

Friday, August 21, 2009


 - Adelaide Hills, SA
 - $22-$29
 - Screwcap
 - 13.5%alc

Despite its glittering show career I've never been the biggest fan of Starvedog Lane's Shiraz Viognier, so imagine my surprise when noted critic Campbell Mattinson named it the 2007 his 'Wine of the Year'. You might say curiosity got the better of me with this purchase.

Highlighting the aromatic benefits of blending shiraz with viognier, it reveals perfumed, musky tones of dark plums and cherry with floral suggestions, followed by enchanting notes of cinnamon spice, game and smoky chocolate oak. Full and soft, the palate is almost fluffy in texture, presenting ultra ripe, currant-like flavours encased in a framework of spices. Nuances of cinnamon stick, clove and nutmeg lift the wine into a finish defined by dusty tannins, meaty undertones and lightly tart notes of viognier influenced dried apricot. My main gripes with this wine are it's a fraction hollow and lacks great concentration.

ü With its appealing perfume and spice, this may be the best Starvedog Lane Shiraz Viognier I've had, but it's far from the best wine I've had. Drink to 2015.
91 points


 - Adelaide Plains, SA
 - $10-$20
 - Screwcap
 - 12.5%alc

For the first time since 2005 Primo Estate's popular La Biondina has returned to being a straight colombard. In general, I really enjoyed Primo's efforts with colombard/sauvignon blanc blends (usually around 85/15), but previous to that I also enjoyed their light and fresh yet shameless, fruit bomb colombard quaffers.

Inherently fruity and forward, the 2009 La Biondina's tropical fruit salad aromas of passionfruit, melon and banana precede a soft palate marked by gentle acids. It's somewhat lacking in flavour definition and intensity, but does offer a spotlessly clean, easy drinking experience.

O The 2009 is a slight step backwards for what I normally consider to be Australia's ultimate quaffing white. Although clean and relatively pleasant, it does share some elements with generic cask wine. Drink to 2010.
86 points

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


 - Coonawarra, SA
 - $19-$33
 - Screwcap
 - 14.0%alc

Few Australian reds in the $20-$30 price bracket could compete with the reliability or longevity of Wynns' hugely popular cabernet sauvignon. It's a Coonawarra classic, an Australian icon even; and its long heritage is marked by its 52nd vintage in 2007.

The 2007 Wynns surrounds its particularly dark, dense colour with a vivid magenta hue, before opening to a sinister fragrance of ripe blackcurrants, dark plum, licorice and olive, overlying dusty notes of cedar/mocha oak. Announcing itself with rather thick texture, its somewhat heavy, dark and brooding palate extends with great concentration and drive, working its ripe, but not over ripe black fruit/dark cherry flavours into a long finish of considerable length and impact. Shockingly dry, fine and powdery tannins grow in a structured fashion towards its climax, with enduring notes of black olive lasting deep into the aftertaste.

üA more traditional young Coonawarra of unrelenting intensity, this is a powerful, heavy hitting bruiser set for the longer term. Give it time. Drink 2015-2027.
93 points

Monday, August 17, 2009


 - Adelaide Hills, SA
 - $40-$58
 - Screwcap
 - 14.0%alc

Although better known for the long living, full throttled reds he's helped craft at Wendouree, Stephen George is a self confessed pinot tragic. The pinot noir Stephen makes under his own Ashton Hills label is sourced from some of the coolest sites in the Adelaide Hills. More often than not, his Estate and Reserve releases are the best in South Australia.

Blessed with the fragrant qualities typical of Ashton Hills' top wines, the 2007 Estate unloads bright scents of red cherry and strawberry fruits, supported by deeper notes of savoury earth, sweet vanilla oak and stalk, with a gentle suggestion of cinnamon spice. Weight wise, it's rather medium to full by pinot standards, with that pleasing fullness carrying through to both flavour and structural intensity in a balanced fashion. The palate initially reveals more savoury earth, dark plum and sour edged cherry flavours, which give way to a penetrative extract of cedar/vanilla oak, pushing the wine into a genuinely spicy, dry finish framed by prickly pinot tannins and sharp acidity. It's extremely good, but just lacks the authoritative elegance and exceptional length required for a higher score.

üUnsurprisingly, this is right at the top end of South Australian pinot noir. The 2007 Estate is as good as any of Ashton Hills' recent releases, but a bit more intense and complex, and certainly in need of further cellaring. After careful cellaring, this should be as good as any of Stephen's Estate wines. Drink to 2015.
94 points

Sunday, August 16, 2009


- McLaren Vale, SA
- $28-$34
- Cork (Capsule)
- 19.0%alc

Here's a bottle which I previously looked at in the back reviews section of this website, but after downing another bottle on the weekend, I feel it completely deserves the full review treatment. It's a fortified grenache produced from base wines with an average age of 20 years by Oliver's Taranga, a McLaren Vale winery whose exceptional products deserve far greater recognition than they receive (as do their cellar door staff Briony and Trudy - love your work guys!).

Golden/caramel brown in the glass, it slowly unfolds to rich, honeyed aromas of fruitcake, sweet toffee and gentle spice, with a surprisingly pleasing level of restraint and integration. Thick in texture, with a flow akin to melted butter, the luscious palate displays a gently understated intensity of its mature caramel mudcake, orange peel and tea flavours, supported by undertones of stonefruit and dried apricots. It finishes long and persistent with a delicious aftertaste of sweet nuttiness complemented by moderate alcoholic warmth.

ü+ The Banished is an incredibly clean and balanced 20 year old fortified. It's fresh as a daisy but with enough mature, complex elements to keep the most discerning of drinkers happy. Fortified fans should 'unbanish' this, now. You won't regret it. Drink now.
94 points

Saturday, August 15, 2009


 - Tumbarumba, NSW
 - $36-$50
 - Screwcap
 - 13.0%alc

Australia's foremost red wine producer, Penfolds, has obviously turned a good part of their attention towards chardonnay. The Tumbarumba sourced 2008 Bin 311 sits third on their upper tier of chardonnay, behind the flagship Yattarna (varying regions) and Bin A (Adelaide Hills), but why South Australia's most famous winery looks beyond their own borders for this premium, single region wine perplexes me somewhat.

Scented with clean, nutty vanilla oak, its savoury aroma of grain and wheatmeal with grapefruit tones exudes restrained elegance and poise. Rather full on intensity at this youthful stage, the palate's mouthfilling acidity leaps from its crystal clear flavours of grapefruit, mineral and lemon with tightly knit creamy oak.  Exceptionally refined and pure, it finishes with brisk, lingering, crystalline-like grapefruit acids and lasting impression.

ü A very tight, refined and refreshing chardonnay in the modern Australian, cool climate mould; Penfolds' Bin 311 would benefit greatly from a little more time in the bottle to develop more richness. Drink 2011-2015.
92 points

Friday, August 14, 2009


Being a part of the Fosters consortium, I'm sure Wynns has their fair share of doubters, but really, you'd have to be pretty silly to of not noticed how good their wines have been of late.

Since undertaking the redevelopment of many of the company's extensive vineyard holdings several years ago, chief winemaker Sue Hodder and her team have increased wine quality dramatically and noticeably.

As has been the standard for the last couple of years, Wynns new release wines show many highlights.

The 2008 releases of riesling and chardonnay continue to be the best pair of sub-$15 Coonawarra whites around. As always, they provide uncomplicated but clean, fun drinking.

The 2008 Shiraz continues a run of fine vintages this affordable little number has had of late, personally, off this tasting, I think it's the best this century.

Once again the real highlight is Wynns' three cabernet sauvignons. The classic Black Label has delivered a well textured, concentrated wine from the rather unforgiving 2007 Coonawarra vintage, which is a pleasant improvement over the 2006 wine.

In keeping with current industry trends and high-end consumer needs, they've knocked out another top notch single vineyard wine, this time coined the Alex 88 Cabernet Sauvignon. I found this inferior to the 2005 Messenger or the 2004 Johnson's Block (Shiraz/Cab), but it's a damn fine, long lasting cabernet in its own right, which outperforms most other Coonawarra cabernet from 2006. I also learnt that the scheduled 2007 single vineyard wine, which was to be named the Sightings (I think), has been pulled and won't be released. Sad that.

Unsurprisingly the John Riddoch was the pick of the bunch. The 2006 is a very powerful wine, not as complete as the 2004 or as deliciously approachable as the 2005, but another exceptional Coonawarra cabernet from this regional benchmark. I really believe the John Riddoch can now lay claim to being the 'King of Coonawarra', or at least in my eyes.

Tasting notes have been listed below, with the prices offered by Melbourne Street Fine Wine Cellars displayed as well.

Wynns Riesling 2008 ($11) Lightly spiced aromas of white pear and lemon. The palate is clean and schisty, with the length and crisp acidity few in Coonawarra achieve with riesling. Where's the 2009 I ask? 89

Wynns Chardonnay 2008 ($11) A rather simple fragrance of soft peach, melon and lemon fruits, lead into a smooth and clean palate with a refreshing finish framed by cleansing, brisk, grapefruit-like acids. Good quaffer. 88

Wynns Shiraz 2008 ($11) Very distinct Coonawarra shiraz nose. It presents a lightly floral fragrance of redcurrant fruits and black pepper with a hint of leather/tar. Vibrant and medium-bodied, its palate is plushly fruited and particularly appealing. A real success at this price and for this label. Bargain. (Full review soon). 91

Wynns Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($27) Ripe blackcurrant/dark plum nose, with hints of dustiness and plush chocolate/cedar oak. Shows both French and American oak treatment to good effect. Palate shows great concentration and a more velvety texture than expected for this label, with generously ripe, but not over ripe fruit flavours. Delicious. (Full review soon). 93

Wynns Alex 88 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($37) Perfumed, fragrant nose, with touches of choc-mint over classic cassis and violet aromas. Wonderfully dense and concentrated yet elegant palate, shows pronounced dark fruit flavours wrapped in grippy, powdery tannins. Finishes long and strong. 94

Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($72) Very even, elegant nose shows the skill of Sue Hodder's winemaking. With great depth, poise and balance, it displays both red and dark fruit aromas with polished vanilla/cedar oak. Palate announces itself with beautiful elegance, smoothness and concentration, before revealing a pleasing undercarriage of savoury quality. Contains true mouthfilling flavour and exceptional structure, as its powerful, drying tannins lead into a finish of almost never ending length. Needs more time, and plenty of it. A real 'experience'. 96


 - Pipers River/Coal River Valley, TAS
 - $27-$40
 - Screwcap
 - 13.0%alc

In the face of growing industry and perhaps even consumer resentment, Hardys' key brands continue to turn out fantastic wine. Tasmanian based Bay of Fires, whose wines seem to have reached another all time high, is a prime example.

Once again Bay of Fires' Chardonnay is brightly lit and funky, with cheesy, leesy scents of cashew nuts, peach, melon and bacon-like oak displaying attractive savoury complexity. Creamy on entry, its beautifully refined palate drives with agreeable viscosity, pushing forward a carefully balanced marriage of white nectarine, grapefruit and creamy, toasty oak. It announces a harmonious interweaving of refreshing lemon sherbet-like acids, before finishing with penetrative flavour, great length and a lasting presence of quirky chardonnay fruit character.

üThis immaculate, spotless Tasmanian chardonnay has really surprised me, it's an absolute bargain; a top drop. Probably the best Bay of Fires Chardonnay yet. Drink to 2016.
95 points

Thursday, August 13, 2009


 - King Valley, VIC
 - $22-$31
 - Screwcap
 - 13.9%alc

Despite a recent decline in plantings, there remains a well held belief that Australian sangiovese is on the brink of greater things. However, I sense its presence is predominantly recognised by industry types and serious drinkers, not the wider drinking community. Most consumers I communicate with haven't even heard of sangiovese, let alone know how to pronounce it (san-joe-vay-zee). 

A winery which has championed Australian sangiovese with unmatched pride and lustre, Pizzini's 2008 is translucent garnet in colour. Unfolding to floral scents of bright cherry fruits, dusty earth, cinnamon spice, garden herbs and seasoned oak, its pleasingly gentle fragrance shares surprising elements with pinot noir. Light-medium, or even light in body, its youthful palate delivers a beautifully poised expression of soft and fluffy, sweet red fruit/savoury earth flavours, with a powdery chassis of drying tannin and lingering notes of licorice infused bright fruit completing a compelling package.

üMuch lighter, softer and significantly suppler than recent releases; Pizzini's 2008 is a skillfully harmonious and drinkable, fruit expressive sangiovese which should fill out nicely towards the medium term. Distinctly different, but the best since 2004 (93pts). Drink 2011-2015.
92 points

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


 - Rutherglen, VIC
 - $15-$22
 - Screwcap
 - 17.5%alc

Now under fourth generation family ownership, Campbells is a long established maker (since 1870) of Rutherglen fortified wines, best known for their exceptional muscats and tokay. Both styles are released at a variety of price points by Campbells, but one thing's for sure; you're always guaranteed outstanding value by any Campbells fortified wine.

Light amber/golden-brown in colour, Campbells' entry level tokay presents a light, airy fragrance of classic varietal quality, as its tea-leaf, burnt toffee and mandarin rind aromas precede a clean and smooth palate augmented by a pleasing thread of richness. Although not terribly complex, deep or luscious; it's keenly balanced, bright and vibrantly flavoured in an uncomplicated yet particularly appealing, easy drinking fashion. The finish is generously long and fresh, with persisting notes of tea marked by well judged sweetness and carefully restrained alcohol.

üIf there's such a thing as great quaffing tokay, then this is it. Drink now.
91 points

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


These short tasting notes are taken from memory (no writings), but it had only been about three months since I last tasted this range. The only wines which were tasted for the first time were the 2006 Botrytis Sweet White and the 2009 Grenache Rose.

Woodstock Grenache Rose 2009 ($18) Very candied, sweetish, distinctly pink rose. My girlfriend said it had remnants of cat pee like bad sauvignon blanc. I remember this wine being a little drier and more bearable (to me) in recent vintages but the 2009 is definitely not my style. 82

Woodstock Grenache 2007 ($20) Unoaked. Juicy, fruit forward style made for easy drinking with soft, yet present structure. Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, shows more confectionary elements than most from the Vale. 86

Woodstock Shiraz 2006 ($22) Displays good concentration and depth of dark fruit and chocolate characters at this price, but just needs more vibrancy for me (as offered by the Stocks). 88

Woodstock Cabernet Sauvignon ($22) Distinctly regional cabernet, almost too regional and not varietal enough. Contains lots of chocolate and plum flavour, with hints of cabernet leafiness and dusty tannin evident in the finish, so you know what you're drinking. Nice. 90

Woodstock The Stocks Shiraz 2006 ($60) Reviewed post below. 93

Woodstock Botrytis Sweet White 2006 ($20) More of an uncomplicated dessert wine for those who like their stickies light, fresh and slightly sweet, not luscious or complex. All the same this was a big hit with the group of 13 I tasted with, but not really me. 87

Woodstock Fortified Shiraz 2006 ($20) Still retains shiraz colour and character, but with great depth and richness. Long, distinctly spicy, peppery finish a real highlight. 89

Woodstock Very Old Fortified NV ($45) Made from base wines with an average age of 23 years. Strong sultana nose with a luscious, rich palate offset by nice acidity and lingering, sweet nutty tones. 91

Sunday lunch at Woodstock Coterie is always promoted with some mention of 'Live Jazz' music. So, I must admit to being a little disappointed that their 'Live Jazz' was just a combination of one guy playing keyboard and another with a microphone - yes - the singer scatted, but it certainly wasn't the 'Live Jazz' band I envisaged with trumpets, drums, guitar et al. The two guys did do a good job of providing pleasant, ambient background music for sunday lunch though.

The highlights of Woodstock's Coterie would have to be the food quality and the decor. The place looks a treat, very traditional Australian yet classy, and fits in with its natural environment ( of abundant gum trees offset by vineyards) beautifully.

The natural oysters with salmon roe I had for entree were strongly flavoured and obviously fresh. They were lifted well by the salmon roe which added texture as well as a nice touch of saltiness. Personally though, I do prefer my oysters a little less intense on fishy flavour. I tend to go for natural oysters as more of a texturally based appetiser, rather than a fish flavoured explosion.

My $34 Prime Beef Fillet main course was very fine, if more medium than medium-rare. The fillet was pleasingly thick and tender with a classic red wine based jus, but the highlight here was definitely the bed of oxtail and porcini risoni which the fillet lay on - absolutely delicious. The risoni was cooked to perfection, not too tough or dry, which allowed the meat to be texturally assertive. And the oxtail was beautiful, I'd love to see this meat used as a main on their menu - oxtail lasagna maybe? All the same, it was certainly worthy of its $34 price tag.

In fact, the food was enjoyed by all who ate on the day. The vegetarian arancina balls especially looked delightful, and the whiting entree proved a real hit, however, it was the dessert which really set tongues wagging (unfortunately I had none ;( From memory the most popular was the chocolate terrine with a tiramisu/chambord sauce?

Wine List/Service
The wine list is unsurprisingly Woodstock, with the sparkling wines (Woodstock don't make any) compromising of Billecart-Salmon and Starvedog Lane Vintage 2002 ($36 a bottle, quite fair) as the best selections. As a bonus, all current vintage Woodstock wines are available by the glass, with The Stocks fetching $16.50 at the high end.

As to be expected for a winery restaurant the glassware is excellent. Standard Riedel red tasting glasses were set to every table, and their petit, tulip shaped champagne flutes were beautiful and made for enjoyable drinking. Unfortunately, fortified and dessert wines were served in standard tasting glasses. After the excellent glassware offered for still and sparkling wines, it would've been nice to see the after dinner wines served in appropriate port/liqueur glasses.

A real downer though would have to of been wine service. After having dealt with Woodstock staff on the wine side of things many times, I've certainly noticed they're exceptional with wine service. All red wines at cellar door are always double decanted, sometimes when the previous bottle is nearing empty rather than waiting until it is empty, and I've even seen a Woodstock rep immediately triple decanter a bottle at a tasting once. With this in mind I expected typically excellent service at the Coterie.

I ordered a bottle of their flagship 2006 Stocks Shiraz almost as soon as we were seated, well before any food was ordered. I asked if it would be decanted, and was pleased (but not surprised) to hear it would. My intentions were that they'd decant the wine almost immediately, and whether they placed it on the table or not, we'd wait 30-60 minutes before divulging so we could enjoy this big shiraz closer to its best.

As we were seated within view of the bar, I managed to see a staff member get our bottle of The Stocks and a decanter, and place them on the bar. Unfortunately, that's as far as it went. There the bottle sat, unopened, for nearly an hour. At which point my girlfriend (who was getting thirsty) went and enquired 'where is this bottle of Stocks we ordered an hour ago?'

A waitress then came over to our table with unopened bottle and decanter in hand (at this point main courses were beginning to be served), opened the bottle and proceeded to decant it. After decanting, the waitress told us:- "You'll probably need to wait 5 min before drinking this". -WHY DO YOU THINK I ORDERED IT AN HOUR AGO! I rather angrily thought, but didn't say, as we were in a large group and I didn't want to create a wine-wankerish type scene.

For me, this equates to poor wine service. Especially after seeing how much better character The Stocks presented after extended aeration. If I was at home, I would've easily given it an hour in the decanter, but more likely two at least. The winery/restaurant which spawned this wine should also serve it with the same respect.

The other grumble for me and everyone else on the day was speed, or lack there of; of service. We arrived for a 1pm booking and didn't get out until 4:30pm. The Coterie really isn't a good place to go for McLaren Vale lunch if you intend on doing McLaren Vale wine tasting afterwards. Especially noticeable was a large gap after main course was finished, when no one seemed to be able to get any of the waiting staff's attention. In the end I had to go and find the head waiter myself to ask for dessert menus for the table - now that's always annoying.

In lieu of these concerns the Woodstock Coterie is actually a very good winery restaurant. It's undoubtedly one of the best in the Vale and certainly deserves its reputation. The decor is very eye catching and appealing, and the food is well above average by winery restaurant standards - although not absolutely mind-blowing (like d'Arenberg or some meals I've had at the Saloppian Inn). It's very hard to fault any of their reasonably priced cuisine. Next time though, taking time constraints into consideration, I'll probably go there for a lunch - no entree or dessert.

I give it 7/10.