Hot Wines from the United States
We just concluded the 2007 San Francisco
Chronicle Wine Competition. The big winners
with Sweepstake Awards are:
- Roederer Estate
- Geyser Peak
- Windsor Vineyards
- Flying Goat Cellars
- B.R. Cohn
- Navarro Vineyards
We have the complete results posted online.
Just follow this link:
3 Regions, 3 Stories, One Country, a
Sunburned one at that – Australia
Henschke’s vineyards in the Eden Valley lie
at an altitude of 400-500 metres. The higher
altitude and cold nights help to preserve
the natural acidity and low pH of the fruit.
Their white wines are bottled under Stelvin
(screwcap). Riesling was the signature
variety of the Eden Valley in decades
The Henschke family’s ancestors planted
vines in Keyneton back in 1861. The oldest
have the look you’ve seen in the Grandpčre
Vineyard in Amador’s Shenandoah Valley –
squat, knurly tree trunks, noble looking yet
alive with green leaves.
The famous Hill of Grace vines originated
from pre-phylloxera plant material brought
from Europe. As with very old Zinfandel bush
vines in California, the fruit is hand
picked from these old-timers, fermented in
open-top concrete fermenters, then matured
in new oak.
Stay in Angaston while you visit. The Blond
Café is packed by locals for breakfast and
lunch where local produce and decadent
scones are on offer. This puts you a short
15 km from Henschke’s tasting room.
Rutherglen is reminiscent of Ripon or
Lockeford or some other Central Valley town
outside of Lodi. There’s a vastness to the
space around the town, wide open expanses of
range land with cattle and sheep and vines.
Cross that with a gold country town like
Plymouth at the mouth of the Shenandoah
Valley. There are remnants and reminders of
a glory age when the place was happening.
There are the signs of decline, wear and
tear and lack of upkeep. Yet there are posh
new bakeries alongside modern cafes serving
artisan products to enjoy with the local
And yes, there is the wine, born in the 19th
century. There is longevity here and the
region has ridden a crest of high times and
low. Stickies, as the Australians call their
dessert wines, were the quaff of most folks
at one time. And all things fortified and
sweet reigned. Yet the days of dry table
wine are in vogue and the stickies have to
struggle for attention with the current and
increasing batch of table wines.
One man, working at the cellar door of a
posh winery in Yarra Valley discouraged me
from visiting this area. He didn’t think the
wines were up to snuff. And there certainly
is going to be some time before this area is
renowned for its dry table wines. Yet there
are some interesting ones to taste.
All Saints is a gorgeous castle of a
building on stately grounds that you
approach from a very long drive lined with
ancient elm trees. It has the feel of
approaching Tara from Gone With the Wind.
They have a sister winery under the same
ownership down the road named St. Leonards.
You really don’t have to pray at either, but
the settings are rather heavenly. St.
Leonards is quite close to the Murray River
where campers delight.
The wines showed best at All Saints. My two
favourites of the dry table wines were:
- 2005 Estate Riesling, $17.50 – It’s quite a
delicate, dry citrus driven Riesling.
- 2003 Family Cellar Durif, $49.00 – Known as
Petite Sirah at home in the states, this
wine shows the intense, inky concentration
that you expect with Petite. While huge and
tannic, as many are, there’s a glycerol
richness and the wine is balanced. Even with
the exchange rate, it makes you appreciate
how reasonably priced most of the Petite
Sirah is in California.
Durif was brought to Rutherglen from France
in 1908. It is said to do well because of
the abundant sunshine and long dry autumns
in this region.
Over at St. Leonards, they do make a curious
wine based on the ripasso technique used in
the Veneto. Somebody asked in a recent class
if that technique was used elsewhere and
this is one of the few I’ve come across.
They started with 2004 Shiraz grapes that
were vinified dry. They took that wine from
storage and added 2005 Shiraz skins after
pressing to make a port style of wine. This
recharged the fermentation to create a few
more degrees of alcohol, ending up at 17%,
yet making a dry wine. It’s very dense, full
of black pepper and quite rich. As is the
price at $49.00.
Though the dry table wines are in vogue,
it’s the fortified Tokays and Muscats that
beckon wine enthusiasts to make the
pilgrimage. As I described them in a
previous newsletter, these wines are blended
with aged stocks stored in cask for 5 to
over 100 years. The richness goes up with
the average age of the blends, and so does
the price. Yes, Chateau Y’Quem is expensive,
but these wines vie for most expensive
honors. The Museum Release Rare Tokay and
Muscat (80-year blends) are $434.50 each,
for 500ml bottles. These wines have that
caramelized complexity you see in Tawny Port
yet the alcohol, even at 18% is better
The next release will be over $1,000 for a
small bottle. Seems steep, but Marty in the
tasting room explained that when someone
finally crunched the numbers on the true
cost of producing these wines, they came up
with $137,000 per bottle. That was taking
into account all of the evaporation over 80
years and taxes paid over the life of the
inventory and so on. It obviously doesn’t
cost this much to make the fresh wine today
that will go into these blends. You could
never, however, duplicate the concentration
and complexity by using only brand new
Beyond Bordeaux in the Margaret River
Must see and taste – the short list:
- Moss Wood
- Cape Mentelle
- Leeuwin Estate
During the 1960s John Gladstones wrote of
the area’s potential to produce top quality
red wine. Comparisons were made and continue
to be made with the great red wines of
Bordeaux. Wilyabrup is considered the fillet
mignon of the region’s side of beef.
Though close to the ocean there is rarely
fog as in San Francisco and on the Sonoma
Coast. The ocean is a climate moderator
assuring growers of no frost. There is no
summer rain though powdery and downy mildew
are problems to reckon with.
Warm Leeuwin currents make for a pleasant
atmosphere if visiting in the autumn. Locals
say it’s a good time to catch site of the
whales as they migrate past the coast. A
visit during their autumn in March and April
would be a nice break for those of us in the
north that are still shivering with the last
of winter rains.
A number of the top producers produce
stellar wines in both the ‘drink for today’
model and in the ‘hold in the cellar model’.
The defining thread is full on fruit in an
accessible package for today where there is
no compromise on flavor or density. It’s
simply that the tannins are ripe and
polished so you can pop the wine on the day
On the age worthy side of the spectrum, the
wines are even more dense and settled into a
structure that is just too intense for
enjoying today yet you can see the potential
for long life. The balance is there such
that the fruit and other flavors keep up
with the tannic and acidic frame.
From Cullen, for example, there is the 2003
Cabernets for today and the 2004 Diana
Madeline for a distant tomorrow.
A Deeper Look at Cullen
Cullen is a leader viticulturally, moving
from organic certification in 2003 into
biodynamic farming today. They are located
in Cowaramup on the edge of Wilyabrup.
Western Australia has made a fortune in
mining and the Margaret River area was on
deck. The Cullen family back in the 1960’s
lobbied successfully to prevent bauxite
mining in what has today become one of the
world’s most famous wine regions. Mining was
successfully prohibited one half mile in and
one half mile offshore as well, preserving a
pristine coastal environment from Cape
Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin. Today Vanya
Cullen is the family winemaker.
- 2004 Chardonnay smells mildly of oak which
adds complexity to the flavors of great
apple and intense acidity.
- 2003 Cabernets is a blend of 60% Cabernet
Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc. The oak is
integrated into the berry fruit while silky
polished tannins and great acidity define
the structure of the wine.
- 2004 Diana Madeline is a blend of 84%
Cabernet and 13% Merlot aged for 18 months
in oak. The wine is quite tannic and tight
yet there is an ample concentration of fruit
to keep up with the structure. Bottled under
screwcap for Australia and under natural
cork for the as yet skeptical export market.