Back in early February a group of Aussies were pulled from pocket, heralded with perspicacious aptitude by Mark Davidson and poured at the Vintage Conservatory for Toronto’s want to know wine community. The murmurs could be heard speaking the unspoken profound. I took coadjutant note. In late February I surmised that “the seminar offered a welcoming respite from my monthly treadle of reviewing. The Langton’s wines collectively commit to the idea that wine is a blueprint with entrepreneurial elements, an elixir akin to the maker’s inventive secret machines. It is always refreshing to taste wines that are not exaggerated or sentimental. These Aussies are representative of all this and more.”
“Such a gathering of Australian wine delivers the preponderance of form, with the incantatory capacity of narrative to bring truth to light and fulness out of pleasure.”
On the heels of that twelve strong Langton’s Classification Toronto tasting came another stellar gathering, this time expatiated as Savour Australia. Just when you think the best of the best had come to town, the best got better.
Wine Australia and her woman about town Anne Popoff gathered 28 producers from 14 regions at George Restaurant on May 16, 2016. The HER (history-evolution-revolution) trade seminar was presented by Master Sommelier John Szabo. The wines were nothing short of exceptional. Once again Australia delivered, not only in terms of quality but also with deferential diversity. Imagine the possibilities when the new effects of restraint and change begin to trickle down to less expensive and more commercially produced wines. Australia will become a new global force to be reckoned with. Here are my notes on the 12 seminar wines plus a few new finds.
Kilikanoon Mort’s Block Riesling 2005, Clare Valley, South Australia (233791, $50.00, WineAlign)
From 45 year-old vines planted by Kevin Mitchell and dedicated to his father Mort, the Reserve Watervale riesling has entered Clare Valley 10 years plus of age nirvana. From pristine free-run juice, this is premium, intensely sun-juicy Riesling, notable for its key-lime aroma and flavour. A key to your citrus pie heart, it took all this time to bring out the complimentary toast. Racy, revelling riesling as a bone outstretched from the stone of Clare Valley soil. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted May 2016 @ @ @
From a vineyard abandoned and left for dead, with bush vines as old as 100 years revived and restored. No new French wood houses d’Arenberg’s delicately dangerous grenache fruit for 12 months. The intro guitar chords from these plants of arms outstretched are George Harrison generous and give fruit more sweet than dandy. Grenache can seem so sketched, lithographed, Warhol copied and godless, but from old vines handled with care it takes a more godly direction. Here there is a slow-settled sense of cure and a liqueur distilled as if by red soil into liquid mineral. It is also fresher than other old vines grenache, say from Aragon or the southern Rhône. “But it takes so long, my Lord.” In McLaren Vale, 100 years. Thank goodness this 2012 has been prepped to please beginning in 2016. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted May 2016 @ @ @ @
No Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon can be considered without the signature, what Hollick’s Rebecca Poynter points out as the “GI,” the Geographical Indication. Registered back in 2003, the ideal demarcates exact boundaries and the deeper we try and understand the terra rossa soil and what it means for cabernet sauvignon, the more it seems that Classico should be added to discern the local varietal specification. First made in 1988 and only produced in exceptional vintages, Ravenswood (Lane) is the link between Hollick’s Neilson Block and Wilgha Coonawarra Vineyards. A bonny doon uprising of cool temperatures from the ocean and the terra rossa create a combined mineral-savoury undertone and a long, cool growing elegance. Iconic attribution, the marriage of old vines and best plots, 18 months plus 18 in bottle. All this to see depth in red plus black fruit, such developed acidity and in the end, bramble on. Drink 2017-2027. Tasted May 2016 @ @ @
An Eden and Barossa Valley blend from vines that range between 60 and 100 years old, the Old Block 2013 is perhaps the most exotic, romantic and profusely perfumed Shiraz in South Australia. The evocative and ambrosial mix of wild rose bud tisane, unlit Indonesian kretek tobacco and Eucalyptus Leucoxylon Rosea is herbaceous, spicy and ambrosial. You might expect a hammer on an anvil but a bridge between the two valleys conjoins the fruit, layers with balance and forms a silky and seductive story that is a great read into texture, from prime extraction and the lavender-vanilla seduction of new and old French oak. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted May 2016 @ @ @
Young is the operative understatement, whilst toast and butter in peak pomade are equally opposed yet lifted by the blossoms of white flowers. What erudite reduction brings and how it stops time. The best barrel selections from powerful Block 20 fruit cause the commotion in a zero shame Chardonnay, philosophically captured though perhaps one step back from unabashed. Ripeness was clearly not an issue. Freshness balances all else. At present the youth is seemingly everlasting. The effects of a moderate climate and corresponding alcohol, in at 13.5 per cent, are edifying to the western tongue. The length is exceptional. In this opinion, classification easily and unquestionably upheld. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted February 2016 @ @ @
Old sandstones, silky loam and minor clay nourish vines planted in 1994, “to a fruit salad,” explains Steven Worley and which eventually evolved into pinot noir. The Soumah Single-Vineyard wines are named after train stations (i.e. Bluestone, Hexham) and they refer to an eastern French didactic. The aromatics abound from 2015, in plethora of orange musk; first blossom, then zest and finally a liqueur. Pinpointed further it’s blood orange, studded with clove, then squeezed into a Mimosa. Early fruit phenolic ripeness, high-picked acidity, wild yeasts and some whole bunch (10 per cent) fermentation leads with freshness, tension and precision. In this pinot noir you can’t help but note the new world cure and pastis flavours in what is very much a treatment in old world homage. An Amaro note slides along the terrific length. Very expressive wine. I love the smell of blood orange in the morning. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted May 2016 @ @ @
This first vintage of the grippy aglianico from a variety of growers and blocks is certainly multi-environmental and drinking with five-tear resolved, prescient acceptability. Owners Justin and Dylan Fairweather practice self-proclaimed vinous bricolage, laying down the ferment for four years in oak (none new) to heap a nosing of liquorice root with the clay still caked and clinging. A humidity this side short of damp relents to florals and then, as expected, a forceful tannic structure. The Xola is the winery’s study in wine duality, as per William Blake’s opposites of existence, masculine aglianico swaddled and softened in feminine wood, exhorting the concept of “complementary dualism.” Or, if you like, in Jim Jarmusch vernacular, “Exaybachay. he who talks loud, saying nothing.” This southern Italian varietal speaks with emphasis, as it does with minerality, from its original existence, “close to the ocean.” As it does here, “perfect for Mclaren Vale.” Drink 2016-2023. Tasted May 2016 @ @
Fowles Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz 2012, Victoria, South Australia (243592, $35.95, WineAlign)
Quite savoury shiraz, reductive, soil funky and forceful. A plum tart, mince meat pie, layer cake of variegation. Acidity circulates and the finish is very much on the toasty, peppery side of the Victoria understanding. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted May 2016 @ @
With a nudge-nudge, wink-wink nod to the Jura, here savagnin finds oxidative, skin contact hope in the Adelaide Hills. Lobethal savagnin (98 per cent) plus a smidgen of chardonnay develops with wild yeasts, sees nine months bâttonage and 12 months in 100 per cent neutral French oak. Smell the sweet grass, while away with the mellow acidity and suffer no slings, arrows or consequence with nary a bite or a pop. Here balance is ushered by dry extract and tannin in a white Rhône-ish way, with tonic-herbal flavours of white cola and less than minor minerality. The skin contact is a plus, as is the lime finish. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted May 2016 @
Grenache as determined by theories of natural selection, like raindrops, as put forth by Jauma’s James Erskine, is here, like stolen kisses. The basic intent, the accidentally intentional purport, the let it be, three vineyard blend. All this for the attitude from cause and to the effect of dropping inhibitions and to drink this grenache without pause. The vineyards are Ascension, in the alluvial basin of the northern slopes of McLaren Vale proper; Genovese, the white beach sands of McLaren Flat and Wood, the sandy ironstone ridge of Clarendon. Yes it’s earthy but also very fruity. One hundred per cent whole cluster achieves a South-African Stellenbosch like cousin performance, but also akin to a similarly-crown capped Jean-Pierre Frick-ish natural Pinot Noir tendency. Here there forges more acidity, but also a banana boat of carbonic whirlpool-ness. This is a thirst wine, a quencher. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted May 2016 @ @ @
Syrah like you’ve never tasted before, to send you spinning, from Taras Ochota, a.k.a. the “European Flying Winemaker.” Syrah from cool climate and of whole bunch fermentation. Syrah reductive and soil funky, of an achievement uncomplicated, simple, truncated and with near-zero intervention. Fresh, atypical, chewy, chunky, altitude-affected, naturliga syrah. Syrah that sees the failings and mistakes of others and can’t help but allude to a Dead Kennedys’ song, “for clean livin’ folks like me.” I am the owl. We are the beneficiaries. Not to lay down. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted May 2016 #OchotaBarrels @
The renegade triumvirate of coagulation denotes the shock and awe of this outlier; McLaren Vale, Nero d’Avola and Amphora. Winemaker Brad Hickey and his nickname have taken the troika and created a beautiful monster. A non-oxidative, crunchy, spicy, toasty, chewy and tannic NdA in versicolour, mottled and florid in flavour. There is black and white pepper, cinnamon, zesty orange spritz and a clay influence (plus amphora) to waft one for the ages. The palate flaunts a tapenade of painfully brilliant chalky black olive. The swirl is chocolate and vanilla, mediterranean and meganesian. There should be zero attention paid to the unusual in its concept. This is both a pleasure to taste now and will evolve into something wholly other given enough time. At least 10 years to be sure. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted May 2016 @ @ @
A sémillon revelation is found in this Barossa Valley ancient, a wine procured from vines dating back more than 150 years. To discount that prodigious bit of calculated fortuity would be wrong on so many levels. The Cirillo family are guardians of what may be the oldest continuously producing grenache and sémillon vineyards in Australia and by logical extension, the world. Here the combination of dry extract, mineral depth and straight-lined (unsalted) salinity is beyond special. While the Hunter Valley garners the most attention for aging immortal sémillon, this Barossan will likewise escape, somehow, to live another more complicated and mysterious life. I would wait three years for some extract meets tannic sweetness to begin its development and then take it slow for another six to 10. Incredible find here in Ontario from Marco Cirillo. Drink 2019-2029. Tasted May 2016 @ @ @
It may feel like a wine framed fresh from uncharted grenache territory but this “entry-level” Cirillo has charted old vines dating back 80 years. The estate’s Old Vine 1850 is resolved from vines time-worn to 160, considered the oldest for the varietal anywhere in the world. Here beautiful and gorgeous come directly to mind, as does silky and deep beyond commonplace grenache depths. Fine, sweet tannins and balancing acidity are the endearment to unblemished, hardly handled red fruit. Marco Cirillo is the benefactor and the facilitator of this old vine bounty and his edifying handling makes for grenache both winsome and with age ability. It should be considered for one and then the other. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted May 2016
Steingarten is an iconic Eden Valley Vineyard in name and nature for riesling but in Cirillo’s case it’s a matter of high altitude shiraz vines at the crossroads of the Barossa and Eden Valley ranges. Marco Cirillo’s handling involves open top fermenters, natural yeasts, basket presses and French meets American oak for 12 months. A stony, schisty distinction can’t help but compare to a northern Rhône, St. Joseph styling, with dark, pepper-laced fruit slipped into a velvet glove. Fresh and spirited, the tannins creep deftly and dutifully in, asking for patience and time. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted May 2016
Stonier Chardonnay 2015, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia (25353, $35.00, WineAlign)
The fresh, minimalist approach entices and offers up such pure, unadulterated excitement, with thanks to the Mornington Peninsula and vines that first took root in 1978. The Stonier chardonnay has been off the radar and always beautifully made but this vintage will turn and attract new heads. Unshakable, racy, fleshy and spirited, this represents more than mere cool climate chardonnay, it vociferates the major importance of such an exhilarative maritime clime. Chardonnay and pinot noir heaven. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted May 2016 @ @
Good to go!