Grapevine Archive for February, 2012

Wed 29 Feb 2012

South Australia Series, Part Five: Peter Lehmann

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When we arrived at Peter Lehmann Wines in the town of Tanunda, Barossa Valley, the clouds had closed in, making the weather warm and humid. It was a welcome relief to see the beautiful vine-covered veranda stretching the length of the cellar door and the gorgeous gum trees on an expanse of lawn.

On recommendation (from Melanie at Henschke!) we arrived early to enjoy the Weighbridge Platter for lunch. A Barossa tradition, it is a collection of the region?s finest locally produced foods including Linke?s Mettwurst, Barossa Valley cheeses, Apex Bread, Maggie Beer Pâté and Barossa Bark. Enjoyed with a glass of crisp, refreshing 2010 Art Series Semillon Blanc ? zesty citrus with honeyed, floral notes, it was the perfect start to our visit.

In the late 1970?s when Peter Lehmann ? the Baron of the Barossa ? and a number of local growers faced the possibility of financial ruin, he enlisted the help of some financial investors and loyal colleagues, and created the Peter Lehmann label, now a household name. Particularly important to the brand is chief winemaker Andrew Wigan, who has been with Peter Lehmann since day one, and the first vintage in 1980; which makes 2012 his 33rd. With a trophy cabinet of awards and numerous Winemaker of the Year titles, he remains modest in his achievements, and to be honest is just a really nice bloke.

With Peter Lehmann's chief winemaker, Andrew Wigan.

We tasted fifteen wines with Andrew, covering all tiers of the Lehmann portfolio and I was particularly impressed with the whites, having had a lot of focus on reds at my previous visits. I couldn?t write this piece without mentioning the 2006 Wigan Riesling one of the ?Masters? wines named after our host for his invaluable contributions to Peter Lehmann. Bottled straight after vintage, it has spent the last five years in bottle and is now starting to show age with smoky, toasty complex layers whilst retaining great acidity and zesty citrus and mineral flavour. Tasting with Andrew, his passion for this award-winning (Best Riesling in the World six times since 1991!) wine was clear and something he is clearly proud of. I must admit, in his presence I did feel slightly amateurish as I wrote my tasting notes, however Andrew?s view that wine should be made to enjoy on a personal level and not to meet certain expectations was apparent, and the Lehmann tag ?Faithful to taste, not convention? certainly rang true in his anecdotes about each wine.

Needless to say, the reds did not disappoint. In true Barossa style, shiraz is the dominant variety in the range, and The Society currently stocks the Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz, 2005 (£30 a bottle). We tasted the 2007; a gorgeous dense ruby red colour, fruit-driven nose with a ton of black fruit and a sweet spice. On the palate, intense black fruit, firm tannins, sweet spice and a heady oak lingered. Produced from low-yielding vineyards which produce the softest and ripest fruit, this shiraz shows good cellaring potential and is a serious, fierce red.

Peter Lehmann sources the majority of its fruit for production from over 140 independent growers, and approximately 2-3% of production is from their own fruit. With the Art Series a palette of fruit from growers across the Barossa, the Portrait wines a portrait of the region with the top four varietals that have made it famous and the Masters wines the top tier of Lehmann?s classic Barossa varietals, they really have covered all bases of the market. May their patchwork and palette continue to grow!

Jo Mansell
Member Services

Categories : Australia
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Basaline talks Society staff through her family's wines

It feels as if Bordeaux spends more time in the financial supplements than the wine columns these days, but the ?real Bordeaux? ? that is to say the 95% or so produced outside the Grand Cru Classé nomenclature ? continues to represent an admirable and at times overlooked quality:price ratio.

Despagne?s wines, which we have been importing since around 1989, offer delicious proof, and a tasting with Basaline Granger-Despagne last week allowed Society staff to gain further insight into their increasingly eclectic portfolio.

Reds are of course made ? and indeed many members will know of Despagne on account of their dangerously moreish Château Bel Air, Perponcher Réseve Rosé ? but unusually it was white wines with which they made their name. When Basaline?s father set up the business in the late 1960s he believed it represented a gap in the market, and he was vindicated by immediate interest from countries with an established predilection for white wines (such as Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and Switzerland).

Several famed French wine regions abound with underrated white wines (e.g. Châteauneuf-du-Pape), and dry white Bordeaux continues to slip under the radar for many in this country ? a situation that, understandably, frustrates Basaline. A trio of whites from Despagne?s current range offered serious proof that both the diversity and value of these wines make them more tempting than ever.

The 2010 vintage of Château Bel Air, Perponcher Réseve, Bordeaux Blanc (£8.50 per bottle) is one of the most enjoyable aperitif wines one could hope to find for the price, offering a beautifully balanced, citric, refreshing mouthful that is both complex and crowd pleasing.

The distinctive label for Les Amants de Mont Pérat was based on a series of sculptures by Basaline's sister-in-law.

Though white Bordeaux tends to focus principally on the twin titans of sauvignon blanc and semillon, Despagne?s work with muscadelle makes several of their wines stand out. The new Les Amants de Mont Pérat (2010, £9.25) brings their commitment to this grape into particularly sharp focus.

Still only found in Bordeaux and Bergerac, muscadelle offers a delicious, subtle floral hint and some added weight to the wine. Used 50:50 with sauvignon, it produces a zesty yet substantial white, with very impressive length of flavour for its price tag. The individualism of the wine and its eye-catching label (a beautiful, modern drawing and a minimalist typeface in place of the more identikit château sketches we are used to) may show the direction in which white Bordeaux is going; if so, it?s an even more exciting prospect.

Lastly, the more traditionally-styled Château Mont Pérat Blanc (2008, £14.50) offered a taste of the more explicitly food-friendly style typified by the great wines of Graves and Pessac-Léognan. Though mainly sauvignon blanc, the addition of 30% semillon lends the wine a slightly waxy character, with marmalade-like fruit and complexity that makes these wines shine with so many different cuisines. These whites will only disappoint those whose tastes are for fashion rather than flavour ? in my humble opinion, there?s no excuse not to try them.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

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Tue 21 Feb 2012

South Australia Series, Part Four: Henschke

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?Exceptional wines from outstanding vineyards??and if I?m honest, my expectations fell nothing short of this when we headed out to Henschke in the Barossa?s Eden Valley. The reputation this name has throughout South Australia is phenomenal and when mentioning in casual conversation to friends, ?I?m visiting Henschke?, their response was nothing short of ?Amazing!?, ?Lucky you?, etc. ? which surely suggested we were in for a treat.

A family owned and run winery, Henschke has been producing wine commercially since 1868, after the first vineyard was planted just outside a small town called Keyneton in 1862 by Johann Christian Henschke. Initially production was for the consumption of family and friends, as well as the altar wine for the Gnadenberg Church and its small Lutheran community. Named after the settlers? homeland, the church is a tribute to their German origins and the vineyard here also takes the same name, however in its English translation ? Hill of Grace, for which Henschke are perhaps most well known.

We met with Melanie Keynes on yet another scorching day (glorious, cloudless blue sky and nothing but sun!) and hopped in the 4WD (air-conditioned) to drive out to the Hill of Grace vineyard. The setting is beautiful, and the vines coming up to harvest were luscious, full and very well looked after. Straw bedding at the base of the vines ensures that any moisture is retained for nourishment of the roots, and the vines are trained to allow maximum exposure to the sun. Hill of Grace is just one of ten wines which are produced biodynamically by Henschke and will be picked just before the full moon of Easter this year.

It is these environmentally sustainable organic and biodynamic principles for which Stephen Henschke, fifth generation, and his wife Prue, are also highly regarded. They have an amazing range of wines produced from vineyards in the Barossa, Eden Valley and the Adelaide Hills, with particular focus on premium single-vineyard wines. Interestingly, research has also been underway at Henschke for a new closure, rivaling the humble cork and the screw cap: Vino-Lok is a glass closure which opens with a ?click? and, I?ll admit, looks very good in the bottle.

We began our tasting with four reasonably priced whites including a semillon, pinot gris, riesling and gewürztraminer ? the last which I particularly enjoyed and Melanie confirmed had the aroma and taste of Turkish delight (I had been searching for the right words!). Our introduction to the reds saw us start with Henry?s Seven, Henschke?s entry-level red, a blend of shiraz, grenache, mouvèdre and viognier.

I was impressed by the complexity of the reds, even at entry level and particularly enjoyed 2007 Cyril Henschke (2005 at The Society, £70 a bottle). A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, its gorgeous ruby red colour was a good intro to what followed; red fruit, red pepper, vegetal on the palate with smooth tannin, good acidity and subtle oak. The 2008 Mount Edelstone Shiraz (2006 at The Society, £59 a bottle) surpassed my expectations of a Barossa shiraz and proved to be complex, fruit driven with a sweet spice, peppery and bold. At 14.5%, it?s certainly packs a punch, and with the cold, snowy, dreary UK weather of late, would be a dream Sunday-night-in wine!

The piece de resistance at Henschke, was of course Hill of Grace (2006), which even at the Cellar Door has a three-bottle limit, and retails at The Society for £350 a bottle (2005). Decanted for three hours, it was vibrant ruby red in colour, with aromas of liquorice, chocolate, oak, sweet spice, and black fruit. The palate did not disappoint, juicy black fruit with chocolate and five-spice, smooth fine grain tannins, strong bold alcohol, but not overbearing. Melanie described it as a book; every time you turn a page there is something new. It?s just a shame, in this instance that it?s a book I can?t afford!

Jo Mansell
Member Services

Categories : Australia
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Thu 16 Feb 2012

A Wine Society Workshop

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On a Saturday morning that was still almost ?deep and crisp and even?, ten wonderful warming reds from the right bank of the Garonne were tasted, discussed and enjoyed at The Wine Society?s second Stevenage-based wine workshop of 2012: ?Bordeaux ? Spotlight on the Right Bank?.

The wines

Having recently been visited by Edouard Moueix from Bordeaux négociant house, J.P. Moueix, the workshop, lead by The Society?s Bordeaux buyer Joanna Locke MW, featured a vertical tasting of three different vintages ? 2003, 2005 and 2007 – from Moueix? Pomerol property, Château Hosanna. From Château La Fleur Petrus (Pomerol), which has been owned by the Moueix famly since 1952, the 2007 and 2005 were compared and contrasted, followed by the same vintages from Château Belair, the Saint Emilion property which was bought by Moueix in 2008 from long established winemaker, Pascal Delbeck.

Joanna Locke MW (left) talks members through the wines

While Moueix wines are known for their restraint and elegance, the more robust style of wine produced at their nearby neighbours in Pomerol, Château Gazin, were also featured. Comparing vintages from 2001, 2003 and 2007, members were able to fully appreciate the vast differences to the wines that bottle age and the many facets that contribute and determine the characteristics of a particular vintage, provide.

Summing up at the end, one guest commented, ?This has been so useful. You would never get to try vertically like this at home unless you opened umpteen bottles at once. When are you going to do the left bank and Burgundy??

When indeed? Check the Tastings & Events section of The Society?s website for the list of all our up and coming workshops and you may find that ?Demystifying Burgundy? with buyer, Toby Morrhall, is on the 21st April!

Stephanie Searle
Tastings & Events team

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Wed 15 Feb 2012

South Australia Series, Part Three: d’Arenberg

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With d'Arenberg's Claire Scott

After a brilliant and informative staff tasting here at the Wine Society offices last year, I was eagerly anticipating my visit to d?Arenberg in McLaren Vale to meet up with Claire Scott who is now based back in Adelaide (after the usual Aussie jaunt in London!).

This year d?Arenberg celebrates their centenary and all that the family has achieved in the last 100 years. Wine production began in the family in 1912, with Frank Osborn embracing the vineyard after purchasing a property with his father Joseph. In 1957 Frank?s son d?Arry became the third generation winemaker and created his own label, d?Arenberg, named after his mother. The now famous label, with its familiar red stripe and coat of arms, continues to achieve national and international success. One of Australia?s First Families of Wine, the brand is now headed by fourth generation vigneron, viticulturalist, experimentalist and chief winemaker Chester Osborn or more affectionately, The Wild Pixie (the eponymous and delicious wine is a Society exclusive).

Our visit began with lunch at d?Arrys Verandah, adjoining the cellar door and overlooking a blanket of gloriously green vineyards ? a contrast to the usually brown Australian summer. The setting is beautiful and the food equally impressive. My slow roast pork belly and pork mignon with fresh peach pickle, kohlrabi and radish slaw was scrumptious, and was delightfully accompanied by The Money Spider ? a roussane with a floral nose, exotic fruit flavours of peach and paw paw; a little spicy, slightly nutty and great acidity for cutting through the succulent, juicy pork belly.

Tasting was informal and relaxed, much like the vibe of the whole place, and began with a glass of fizz ? the yet to be publicly released centenary celebration label (lucky me!). After tasting a few whites with lunch, we swiftly moved through to some gnarly reds including The Footbolt Shiraz (£11.50 per bottle): gorgeous ruby red in colour, black fruit, a hint of some red fruit, peppery and sweet spice, eucalypt and oak ? affordable for everyday drinking but delicious and with good potential to age.

With an array of interesting labels ? Feral Fox, Derelict Vineyard, Galvo Garage? ? it was comforting to wrap my hands around a glass of the iconic Dead Arm Shiraz (£27 per bottle), knowing the meaning of its name! Named after a vineyard condition that affects the vine, giving it a ?dead arm?, it is produced from small bunches of concentrated, highly flavoured grapes on the healthy part of the vine. Much love and attention is given to this one, gently pressed and matured for nearly two years it is complex and elegant with deep black purple fruit and floral layers with gentle oak, sweet spice and liquorice.

Casually strolling through, chatting to staff and generally keeping in tune with day to day activities, d?Arry ? now in his 80?s ? stopped to chat to us and show us his boat, locked up in a shed on the winery grounds. At this point, I realised it is still very much a family place but with an ?artist? at its helm making the brand bigger and better. Chester?s direction for d?Arenberg appears to encompass two branches, retaining great classics and icons, sticking to what works, but also experimenting with new blends to give d?Arenberg an edge on their tough competition. ?Chin, chin?, d?Arenberg, you have won me over!

Jo Mansell
Member Services

For a list of d’Arenberg wines stocked currently by The Society – as well as a chance to buy tickets for our centenary tastings with Chester Osborn in May – click here.

Categories : Australia
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Tue 14 Feb 2012

Keeping Warm

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Murky East-Anglian skies and extremely chilly days call for robust warming reds. We like them with a bit of age. After rummaging in the cellar I found a glorious bottle of 1997 Flaccianello and a cheering 1990 Crozes Hermitage Thalabert.

Giovanni Manetti?s Flaccianello (we list the 2008 at present) is one of Tuscany?s finest wines and was a real treat. It tastes good after five years but better still after 10 and it can clearly last 20.

The 1990 Thalabert (the 2005 and 2006 are available from us currently) has now long lost its baby fat and initial fruit but has a wonderful mellow roasted quality. No point in hoarding longer.

It also served as a reminder to put in my order for 2010 Rhônes (offer closes at 9pm this evening). The inexpensive Villages mixed case is a no-brainer and Marcel tells me that it was an exceptional year for Côte-Rôtie. With some of the most hard-to-work slopes in France, and planted with vines since Roman times, Côte-Rôtie does not succeed fully every year, but when it does, you have something very fine.

Sebastian Payne MW
Chief buyer

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Mon 13 Feb 2012

Harvest 2012 starts in South Africa

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January in South Africa is a strange time in the wine industry. It is a cross roads between the relaxed business of Christmas holidays and the serious business of verasion and harvest preparation. Winemakers and viticulturists shake the cobwebs out of their ears and get busy understanding what it is that nature is going to be presenting them for harvest. (Of course the more serious Viticulture practitioners would have ignored Christmas and worked throughout the season.) It is often with trepidation that eyes are cast towards the weather report to make sure that the hint of a serious thunderstorm or a late season heatwave which may or may not upend the best prepared plans. Inevitably the best grapes come from the best vineyards and always, the best vineyards are managed by the most precise and most fastidious viticulturists. Only the best can truly make any difference when faced with the onslaught of mother nature.

Tomorrow (February 13th) will be the first day of harvest in the luxurious Vilafonte vineyards and it is actually about 2 weeks later than usual ? a frustrating delay for a wine growing team obsessed with detail. The harvest is looking excellent with a greater number of berries in our test panels indicating an average to small berry size, but a potentially larger harvest of high-quality grapes. It will be a 4am start tomorrow morning and I, along with my entire team, are excited and nervous at the same time.

The harvest started at Warwick Wine Estate last Wednesday with the early harvest of some beautiful Sauvignon Blanc that will eventually become the Warwick ‘Professor Black” Sauvignon Blanc ? our well known standard bearer that is occupying a lot of our attention at the moment. Early indications are good and I was able to taste the first rich, sweet, ripe juice straight from the jaws of our brand new ‘uber-fancy’ grape press imported just-in-time from France. Delicious. There is so much more to come in the annual dramatic episode that we call harvest ? stay tuned. I will do my best to find some time to keep you posted.


Mike Ratcliffe
Warwick Estate

View a list of Mike’s wines stocked currently by The Society.

Categories : South Africa
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Fri 10 Feb 2012

My Fussy Valentine

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Wine Without Fuss subscribers will have received these recipes in their latest Premium Selection together with the perfect wines for the job. Members who don?t have anything suitable in the rack may like to make use of our Next Day Delivery service.

Heart-shaped Neufchâtel cheese

Despite the assurances of some (understandably) best-selling cookery books, the word ?effortless? has no place in the vocabulary of anyone who cares what they eat, but minimising effort is another matter, especially on the most romantic day of the year. This menu for two leaves plenty of time for canoodling. The starter is marinated the night before and cooks in under ten minutes. A slow cooker will prove its worth for the beef, which can be started in the morning and left to braise slowly all day, with the added bonus of glorious aromas when you return from doing other things. An authentic heart-shaped cheese rounds things off appropriately.

Night in the Gardens of Spain
Give Pacific wild salmon the Atlantic kiss of life with this recipe, inspired by the last of the Seville oranges, brilliant for marinades. Place a 200g skin-on tail-fillet of wild salmon skin side down in a glass bowl. Add the juice of a Seville orange, or lemon and the finely-chopped stems of a small bunch of fresh coriander. In a saucepan, toast a pinch each of whole dried cumin and coriander seeds until they release their fragrance. Add 100ml medium Sherry, a tablespoon each of chilli-flavoured oil and top-quality Sherry vinegar and a dash of anchovy essence. Boil down to half the volume and leave to cool before straining over the fish. Leave overnight. Cometh the hour, preheat the grill. Put the fish, skin side up in the tray, without the grid, and pour the marinade around. Brush the skin with a little oil and grill for 6-8 minutes. Peel off the blackened skin, cut the fillet in half lengthwise and serve garnished with a mixture of salad leaves, including the reserved coriander.
Try this with a brisk Iberian white like Fefiñanes Albariño, 2010 (£14.95).

Love Me Tender
More than enough for two, with sublime leftovers. This can be simmered conventionally for two hours on a hob, but use a slow cooker for preference. Models and heat settings vary, but in principle, the beef and vegetables benefit from browning at high heat before 6-7 hours? slow cooking. In a frying pan, heat a tablespoon of oil and soften an onion, carrot, two sticks of celery and a small fennel bulb, all finely diced. Transfer to the base of the cooker. Add a little more oil and brown a well-seasoned piece of lean beef topside, about 750g, on all sides. Lift it out of the pan and lay it on the vegetables in the cooker. Deglaze the pan with 500ml red wine, scraping up any beefy residues. Let it bubble for a few minutes while you tie together some sprigs of fresh parsley and thyme and a couple of bay leaves. Tuck under the meat and pour over the wine. Replace the lid and leave for at least six hours, until tender. Lift carefully from the cooker and transfer the vegetables and liquor to a blender (put the meat back in the slow cooker to keep warm) to make a smooth, tasty sauce. Carving will be difficult to let the meat collapse into chunks, or serve more elegantly in warmed individual casserole dishes, napped with the sauce and garnished with little potatoes and seasonal greens.
Serve with a generous South American red eg Koyle Reserva Carmenère, 2010 (£8.50).

Heart?s Delight
Say ‘cheese’ to the one you love
Far from being a Valentine?s Day gimmick, Neufchâtel cheese has been made in Normandy since the 16th century, and is protected by an appellation contrôlée. A heart-shaped cow?s milk cheese of the Chaource family, it?s velvety in texture, mild and subtly floral in taste. Once ripe, it should be eaten up, at its ethereal best, with a thin slice of walnut and raisin bread.
A medium white like Vouvray Sec Tendre, 2008 (£9.95) works brilliantly with soft, buttery cheeses.

Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager

Categories : Chile, Loire, Spain
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Thu 09 Feb 2012

South Australia Series, Part Two: Bleasdale

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Just over an hour’s drive south-east from Adelaide – albeit in a non air-conditioned car and 38 degree heat! – saw us arrive at the Bleasdale Winery in Langhorne Creek on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Bleasdale was established in 1850 by Frank Potts, who was the pioneer of viticulture and winemaking in the district.

Covering a greater area than the Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek is now home to seven family-based cellar doors, 6,000 hectares of vines, a pub that does a great chicken burger…. and a horseradish farm, which sadly, we didn’t have time to visit!

We met with Peter Perrin (managing director) and Paul Hotker (senior winemaker) for a tasting in the cellar door (air-conditioned!) and a tour of the winery. Paul talked us through eleven wines with infectious passion and knowledge, ranging from sauvignon blanc – which they source from vineyards in the cooler Adelaide Hills – to estate-grown shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. The number of awards and accolades that Bleasdale has achieved is staggering considering its size, and in 2011 they did not show a wine that didn’t win a medal in its entry category.

The beautiful heritage-listed building was built in around 1880 from local limestone and red gum, and has over the years expanded around this original building. Whilst retaining mountains of character and a lever press built around a red gum tree in 1892, the winery merges from 100-year-old waxed red gum vats and 46,000-litre underground tanks to newer, stainless steel fermentation tanks and a cellar of 3,000 barrels.

Clearly Peter and Paul are proud of their achievements, in particular their success with malbec and verdelho – two grape varieties not widely associated with South Australia. Due to its close proximity to Lake Alexandrina and the coast, Langhorne Creek has a high diurnal temperature which allows grapes to retain great acidity. The Potts Catch Verdelho (2011) is the only Langhorne Creek estate-grown white, that Bleasdale produce and shows refreshing layers of stone fruits and citrus (limes) with a little grassiness and tangy acidity; a great summer wine and good alternative to sauvignon blanc.

Aside from some varietal reds – shiraz and cab sav – Bleasdale produces a number of stunning blends, using malbec in many to inject structure, richness, colour and black fruit character. Frank Potts is their flagship red and the 2009 I tasted is the 17th release. A cabernet-based blend with malbec, petit verdot, cabernet franc and merlot, the 2009 is fruit driven with hints of violet and spice. On the palate, good body, medium but noticeable tannin, black fruit character, brambly sweet spice and a good finish. The Society currently stocks the 2006 and 2008 vintages of Frank Potts, both at £14.95.

We were lucky enough to taste a number of malbecs straight from barrel and I was amazed at the individual character which each showed – different growers, different vineyards, even different pockets from the same vineyard. With a cool 2011 vintage, Peter and Paul were worried that perhaps malbec wouldn’t show as well as they’d hoped, but even they seemed pleasantly surprised by the development they have seen so far and believe it will be a promising vintage.

Oh, and did I mention the 20-year-old fortified we tasted straight from barrel? Amazing! But sadly it will never be released as this one is just ‘a bit of a hobby’ at Bleasdale!

Jo Mansell
Member Services

Categories : Australia
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Tue 07 Feb 2012

South Australia Series, Part One: Wirra Wirra

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Whilst many of you were enjoying a cold Christmas and sipping warm, rich reds ? pinot noir, cabernet, shiraz ? I was enjoying crisp, refreshing whites ? sauvignon blancs, rieslings and viogniers ? in the Land Down Under for a delightfully warm festive season.

Having recently returned from a month long visit to my hometown of Adelaide, South Australia, I look back and cheer that I took the opportunity to mix business with pleasure and visit some amazing wineries. Fortunately, as a Wine Society employee, I was privileged to have representatives from six well-known producers throughout McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the Barossa Valley, meet with me for an experience not to be forgotten. Unfortunately, I feel I may have developed cenosilicaphobia ? fear of an empty glass (thank you d?Arenberg for teaching me this!)?

Approaching the cellar door at Wirra Wirra in McLaren Vale, there was no mistaking we were in the right place as an oversized monument of the famed Church Block, clad in hundreds of bottle corks, greeted us at the entrance. An overcast, windy Wednesday morning was perhaps not the best welcome to the McLaren Vale ? a stunning blanket of vines, patchworked across the land ? but our host Julian Forwood ensured a great start to the day.

Wirra Wirra, meaning ?amongst the gum trees? in the local native language, was pioneered by Robert Strangways Wigley in 1894, a ?black sheep? in his family who moved away and turned his hand to wine production. Sadly the winery went to ruin, but was saved by Greg Trott in the 1960?s and rebuilt as the beautiful stone building that appears today. Although Greg has now passed away, his presence in the winery is still very much apparent, from the trebuchet in the grounds which was built because he wanted one of his own, to the stories behind some of the labels which represent Greg?s character ? The Lost Watch (a birthday present he lost after one day), The Twelfth Man (his love of cricket) and Hiding Champion (Trott?s nickname).

After harvest ? happening in about a month?s time ? each variety, vineyard and section is fermented separately in stainless steel or oak (mostly French) and remain separate until they are ready to be blended, allowing the true character of each wine to shine through. Interestingly, the final three blends leading up to each end product are tasted with food and, with regular features on restaurant wine lists (and currently on Qantas flights), this is surely producing better wines for us to enjoy in a social capacity.

We were treated to a tasting of thirteen wines; four whites, a rosé, seven reds and a sweet sparkling ? yes, our overcast Wednesday did improve! Many a Society member will know Wirra Wirra Church Block (£12.50), which is the number one selling wine in Oz in its category and has a strong consumer following. The ruby red Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot blend at 14.5% is abundant with blackcurrant, red fruit and sweet spice on both the nose and the palate. Shiraz is the performer in the 2009 vintage, but I am told cabernet will shine in the 2010. Grapes are estate grown with a blend of hand and machine picking and 100% barrel fermented with a third to a half in new oak. 1972 was the first vintage of Church Block and I can safely vouch that it is still going strong!

For perhaps a more special occasion (or an amazing steak) try Wirra Wirra RSW Shiraz (£35) ? generously juicy, fruity, and a little bit spicy ? or Wirra Wirra Dead Ringer (also £35) ? a McLaren Vale Cabernet with grippy tannins, red fruit, aromas of tobacco and a hint of mint. Branded as The Angelus in Australia, it goes by the name Dead Ringer in the UK after a polite (?!) letter ? in French ? from Château Angelus in St Emilion advising that it would not be an appropriate name. Dead Ringer: an exact duplicate ? I think not in this case, but by far Wirra Wirra gets my vote for taking it so lightheartedly!

Jo Mansell
Member Services

Categories : Australia
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