Archive for the ‘Review Australian wine’ Category

Elderton “Friends” Cabernet: Bold and Elegant

edenWhen I see an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon coming my way, especially one with “Barossa” on the label, I’m tempted to jump fast and high to get out of the way.

It’s not that I don’t like Australian wines — I love many of them. But unless I’ve got a 16 ounce Rib Eye nearby, an Australian Cabernet can be just too big for my britches: the big, jammy fruit and high alcohol needs a lot of beef to tame it.

So I was pleasantly surprised recently when I uncorked a bottle of Elderton “Friends” Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. I already knew the Elderton winery by reputation — they’ve won a boat-load of awards over the years for their Barossa wines, and have made a name for themselves with reds and whites from a sub-appellation of Barossa where some good friends (like in the name, right?) own vineyards.

Eden Valley is a different beast than the hot, dry Barossa Valley floor. The Eden vineyards are scattered up the hillsides, at elevations of 1200 to 1500 feet. So what does this do? The elevation creates cooler temperatures, and combined with more minerally soils, it produces grapes with more acid and structure. And of course, acid and structure act to balance big fruit.

So let’s taste Elderton Friends Cab. The color was as purple and opaque as I’d expect, but the nose was relatively delicate. I got mint and eucalyptus right off the bat, with dark fruit notes chiming in. Blackberry and dark chocolate were up front also.

The palate was multi-layered and delightful. The fruit came first, with blackberry and sweet black currant opening the door for gentle mint. There was a peppery note too, and all of this was wrapped up in soft tannins. But it didn’t finish there — that Eden Valley acid lifted up the finish with a bright end-note, and made a package that was bold and elegant at the same time. No jamminess here — just rich, bright fruit.

The Elderton “Friends” series (there’s a good Shiraz, too) represents a good value. At just under $20, you’re getting big wine without a big price tag. Cheers!


  • Share/Bookmark

Just What The Doctor Ordered: Small Gully The Formula Cab/Shiraz


Stephen is the one sleeping...

I was navigating a busy wine trade show when I saw Stephen Black. He was the dashing, somewhat diminutive man in a black shirt who solidly occupied a space in the middle of a crowded aisle-way.  People-traffic, all laden with semi-filled wine glasses, bumped against him and then parted to flow around him, as though he were a rock in a stream.

I approached to taste his wines, and he waved me away: “I want you to taste the New Zealand wines first!”

OK, whatever you say…

So once I’d done with the grapefruit-y Sauv Blancs and delicate Pinot Noirs, I tried Stephen again.

“OK, now we can talk.” And Stephen can talk. He told me about his first career in the pharmaceutical business, which grew from his background in chemical engineering. While he’d found a fine career, he didn’t find his passion until he found his way into the wine business.

He started at Barossa Valley Estates  in 1992 and then did graduate work in winemaking. It all came together when he hooked up with two grape growers in 1999. One of them, Darren Zimmermann, came from a family that had been growing grapes in Barossa since early last century, and together with Robert Bader they formed Small Gully Winery. It’s in the heart of Barossa, built in (you guessed it) a small gully on Zimmermann’s property.small

They named their wines with a nod and a wink to Stephen’s past — “The Formula” was supposed to be The Prescription until some government wine bureaucrat gave it a thumbs-down.

But what’s in a name, anyway?

Their intent at Small Gully was to make “wines of a distinctive bold and intense style with great expression of fruit character.” In Australian wine-speak, that means “ballsy.”

And ballsy they are. I reviewed one of their wines, The Formula Shiraz 2006, a few months ago, but this was the first time I’d seen The Formula Cabernet Shiraz 2007.

I expected a big giant fruit bomb, but that would have been too simple. The Shiraz alone, harvested from older, low-yielding vines in warm-climate Barossa, brings bold, extracted, rich berry flavors.

But Stephen adds about 50% Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Clare Valley vineyards are at higher altitudes, bringing much cooler nights that allow the grapes to ripen more slowly and develop good acid and structure.

Add Lot A to Lot B and you get — intensity without jamminess.

So let’s get to the wine. The color in the glass was dark purple and opaque, and the nose jumped up to meet me. I got round, rich aromas of dark fruit, vanilla and a hint of savory herbs.

The palate made me go “Wow!” (really). “This tastes like chocolate-covered boysenberries!” which to me is a good thing — a very good thing.

It wasn’t just sweetness, though. There was firm, underlying structure that kept the fruit in check. This is a wine that’s not just “a meal in a glass” — it would be great with a steak (on the barbie?).

It’s no secret that I find Australian wines easy to like. I enjoy the bold style of the wines and the winemakers. Some reviewers love them and give them great ratings.

But the best rating system is my customers: When I recommend The Formula wines, customers buy it and come back for more. What better rating system can there be? Cheers!

  • Share/Bookmark

Passion You Can Taste: Elena Brooks’ Dandelion Riesling

elenaElena Brooks doesn’t look like all the other winemakers at the crowded trade tasting. Gender aside, she’s certainly the most animated winemaker, smiling broadly and gesturing for emphasis.

Elena is an Australian winemaker by way of Bulgaria. And oh yeah, she’s a Spanish winemaker, too. Confused?

Elena Golakova grew up in Bulgaria, where her mother worked in the library of their local state-owned winery. Elena’s passion must have started there, and it took her to Australia, where she studied Enology and learned winemaking.dande

When we met her, she had a bottle of Dandelion 2010 Riesling in her hand, which was getting flung about dangerously as she talked with her hands. It’s not often you see the ubiquitous weed on a wine bottle (like, never), so we were intrigued. Stranger yet, the wine’s full name is “Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling.” Quite a mouthful. But since I’m always happy to taste anything Australian, we short-stopped the bottle long enough to grab a glass.

It opened with a classic aromatic Riesling nose — classic for Germany, that is. There was that hint of petroleum with bright apple and pear fruit, and a hint of minerality — like all good cool-climate Riesling.


Wow - a 100-year-old Riesling vine.

The palate showed the same snappy, tangy fruit flavors, suggesting pears, tangerines, and maybe a touch of honey. There was body here, but again, the classic acid supported it all. Dry, crisp and clean, this Riesling would be a great food pairing wine.

So I checked out Elena’s Dandelion Vineyards and discovered that Eden Valley is a cool-climate growing region. The fruit for this wine comes from 100-year-old Riesling vineyards. Those are some serious Old Vines. And the bunches for Dandelion’s Riesling are chosen virtually one at a time to ensure perfect ripeness and varietal correctness.

That’s a central part of Elena’s philosophy: she wants “to capture variety, vintage and vineyard.” Once the grapes are picked, she stays out of their way as much as possible, letting the terroir and fruit come through. With this terroir, that means acid, minerals, and crisp, tangy fruit.

This will age like a classic European Riesling, too. But why wait? I’d pop a bottle now as an aperitif or with some killer spicy Thai Coconut Curry. Yum for the wine, Yum for the food, and Yum for the pairing.

Thanks to Elena for making it possible. Cheers!


  • Share/Bookmark

Strong Arms From Down Under

strongI love Australian Shiraz. I’ll admit it right up front.

I love it when I want a balls-to-the-wall, no-holds-barred, in-your-face wine experience.

Australian is not elegant like Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. Or austere like Bordeaux.

Australian Shiraz is not “food wine,” if food wine means a low-key beverage that enhances flavors without making  a statement of its own. Instead, it’s all about ripe, rich, opulent fruit.

So this post is about my latest Aussie wine experience. This one is called Strong Arms Shiraz 2008, and it’s been available to American wine drinkers thanks to a fabulous importer called Grateful Palate Imports. Well, it was available, until Grateful Palate went out of business. I think this is a huge loss to U.S. wine drinkers, and I’d happily do anything I could to bring them back.

But let’s try to appreciate this wine for what it is. Strong Arms is just what it says: a strong expression of the fruit that’s endemic to Australia. This country, that was formed by hard-ass convicts and regularly deals with ridiculous extremes of climate, is capable of producing wines that are bold but juicy, and represent great value for stateside wine drinkers.

Strong Arms 2008 is a classic Shiraz. The nose jumps out of the glass with black raspberry fruit and just a little bit of spice. The palate  is just as rich, with boatloads of up-front raspberry cream. It’s not jammy, mind you — the weight is right for a wine that can be enjoyed with food, or without.

I sure hope this wine continues to be available n the U.S., and that we see a resurrection of the Down Under wineries represented by Grateful Palate Imports. I’d buy them, and back them, all the way. Cheers!

  • Share/Bookmark

Small Gully


Hard-working winemaker Stephen Black

God knows there’s no lack of big, ballsy Australian Shiraz. It seems like it’s the birthright of every Barossa winemaker to make a jammy, full-bodied Shiraz that routinely gets 90+ points from the big-deal wine reviewers.

Problem is, many of them seem too big and too jammy. Oh, they’re spectacularly delicious for the first several sips, but then about halfway through your second glass you start feeling like there’s a small furry animal sitting on your tongue. They’re just too much — they tire out your palate.

So I look for more balanced, more restrained Aussie reds (of course, restrained is a relative term, right? “Restrained” from Barossa is nothing like restrained from, say, Bordeaux) .wines

So anyhow, last night we had a grill full of ridiculously large dry-rubbed steaks. I wanted to see if Small Gully Winery’s Robert’s Shiraz 2006 could stand up to Rib-Eye.

I read that the grapes for The Formula Shiraz are sourced from vineyards in the Adelaide Plain, which is just west of the Barossa Valley. It has the distinction of being the most arid (i.e. having the least rainfall) of any Australian wine region. It’s also pretty damn hot, and that doesn’t sound like a prescription for quality wine grapes. What saves it, though, are the cool sea breezes that sweep across the vineyards, cooling down the grapes and slowing the ripening time. Another plus is that most of the vineyards are mature (40 years old for Robert’s), and that helps create more complexity and flavor. Finally, controlled irrigation and limited yields produce intense and concentrated flavors.

So good, let’s get back to the wine. When I read that the alcohol content was skating close to 16%, and that it had been aged for 36 months (that’s a lot!) in American oak, I feared the worst.  But when Robert’s Shiraz hit my glass, I immediately loved the deep garnet color and the aromas that just about jumped out of the glass and hit me in the face. The first was intense, rich berry pie, with all the sweet/tartness that a good berry pie has. The berries reminded me of elderberries or mulberries, and then some spice drifted in. It was cedar or sandalwood — delicate but intriguing. Then the vanilla and chocolate crept in at the end. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

Elderton Friends Vineyard Series Shiraz 2009: Intensity With Brightness

barossaElderton Wines shows you how great Australian wines and wineries can be. They’re family-owned and operated. They have vineyards dating back to the 19th century. They express terroir with elegance and style. And oh yeah — they’ve won a boatload of awards for their fabulous wines.

Deservedly so. Their primary Barossa line shows the big, bold style that the region is famous for. But they have another project, the Friends Vineyard Series, that says “Barossa” on the front label, but is designed to showcase a lesser-known sub-region.

The Eden Valley vineyards from which this fruit is sourced don’t sit on the Barossa Valley floor. They’re scattered up the hillsides, at elevations from 1200 to 1500 feet. Combine the effects of elevation with the cooler, wetter climate and more minerally soils of the Eden Valley sites, and you get fruit with more acid and structure, along with intense flavors.

When I poured the Elderton Friends Vineyard Series 2009 Shiraz, I saw what I expected: intense deep garnet and purple color that you could barely shine a pin-light through. The nose hit me with fruit, as I expected it would, but it wasn’t just tooty-fruity. There was lots of cedar and spice, tart red berries, and even a bit of meatiness tickling the back.

The palate had all sorts of stuff going on. The first was black raspberry candy. Ever had a black raspberry Jolly Rancher? If they made them, they would taste like this. And that’s a good thing — the rich fruit was clean and not jammy. Because the crisp acid jumped in right behind the fruit. It lifted the palate and made way for the eucalyptus and mint that followed. My palate was not quite overwhelmed, because as the finish lingered, a little black licorice teased me.

Boy — there’s enough stuff here for a meal. And did I mention my meal?

I was eating Seared Tuna as I sipped my Elderton, and the match turned out to be brilliant, if I do say so myself. The slight smokiness of the tuna was perfect with the sweet black raspberry fruit.

And this really was a good food wine. You might think that Aussie Shiraz is a meal in itself, but the Eden Valley version has so much natural acid that it keeps the wine bright and laser-beam clean. Elderton Friends is actually a fairly mind-blowing combination of intense fruit and tangy brightness.

And oh yeah — there are a few things you don’t get with this wine. The first is heavy oak, which used to be considered a feature of all Barossas. The second is a big price tag. You can take home the Friends Shiraz for under $20, and that’s a lot of fun for the money. Cheers!



  • Share/Bookmark

Worth Dying For? The Executioner 2007

George warned me about this wine.

He (and by “He” I mean George Shinas, owner and winemaker) warned me that I better grab a lot of this wine, because there’s not much of it and it’s the best thing he’s ever made.

That’s saying something, because George makes really good wine. You can read all about it in my other post, “Taking Australia to Court.”

But here’s the story behind his latest creation. Shinas Estates makes three wines at their winery in Victoria, Australia: a Shiraz called “The Guilty,” a Cabernet Sauvignon called “The Verdict,” and a Viognier called “The Innocent.” From the 2007 vintage he left some wine in the barrel after he did his primary bottling, and early in 2011 he blended all three and bottled it as “The Executioner.”

You’re seeing a pattern in those names, right? And if I tell you that George is a criminal court judge, you’ll get it, right?

So The Executioner blends 55% Shiraz, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon and just a touch (2%) Viognier. You may think, “Hmmm, Viognier is a white grape, so what’s it doing in a red wine?” Well, it’s actually quite traditional in France’s Rhone region to blend Viognier with Syrah and other red grapes, and many Aussie winemakers do it, too. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

Mollydooker Knocks It Out of the Park (Again)

feetGetting to know Mollydooker wines is like getting to know the hottest guy in town — it ain’t easy. He’s a lot more popular than you are, so he can be choosy, and make you wait.

I’ve been trying to get to know Mollydooker wines, but they’re maddeningly hard to get (because they sell out). I can’t find them at all in my home state — I had to have a single bottle delivered like a CARE package from the state next door. It was The Boxer, and it was great, and I wrote a story about it that you can read here.

So I just about jumped out of my skin when I saw not one, but two bottles of Molly Dooker Two Left Feet 2008 sitting on a retailer’s shelf. They went home with me, needless to say, and I treated them to a Rib dinner.sarah sparky

Before I talk about the wine, let me fill you in on the winery. ”Mollydooker” is another one of those wacky  Aussie words, and it means “left-handed,” which describes Sarah and Sparky Marquis. This young couple are Australian wine royalty, having won everything from Australian Winemakers of the Year (several times) to  five, count’em, five 99 point ratings from  The Wine Advocate. They started out partnering with grape growers to create exceptional fruit, from which they made exceptional wines. Some of their early brands include Marquis Philips and Henry’s Drive, both of which win the ratings sweepstakes on a regular basis.

The key to their exceptional wines is the vineyard, with a trademarked process they call the “Marquis Vineyard Watering Programme.” Vineyard canopy management and irrigation are meticulously controlled throughout the season, particularly as they near harvest. Here’s why: As grapes near maturity, their sugar levels shoot up very quickly. That may seem like a good thing, but there’s a catch: to reach their full flavor potential, grapes must also be physiologically ripe. The ripening of the polyphenols and other compounds that produce complex flavors lag behind the sugars, so here’s what they do:

“the Mollydooker team applies water to control the sugar level until the flavor level catches up. Leigh, Sparky’s Dad and Vineyard Programme Manager, tells us, “It’s the range and intensity of the flavor which translates into Marquis Fruit Weight™, and ultimately into the incredibly rich, velvety wines that have become Sarah and Sparky’s trademark.”

Now isn’t that cool? Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

Four Sisters Winery Kills It Again

sistersOK, I’ll admit this isn’t really a picture of the four sisters who’re the namesakes for this Australian winery. But they look like they could kick some serious ass, just like the wines.

Four Sisters may sound like a silly, frilly little winery, but it’s got some serious chops. In fact, it was created by one of Australia’s most respected winemakers, Trevor Mast. At Mount Langhi Ghiran, Trevor produced award-winning wines that could be massive and very bold. He started his second winery so he could create a line of fun, accessible, easy-drinking wines that his daughters and their friends could enjoy.

Some of the girls got into the act, too. The eldest, Daliah, created the silhouette art that became the winery’s logo and label.

I’ve already tasted and reviewed Four Sisters Shiraz (“Great Value Second Label Shiraz”), and gave it my top rating because it drinks twice as good as it costs. This is way more than “fun, easy-drinking” wine. So I was excited to bring home the Merlot.

I gotta admit that Merlot isn’t anything like my favorite varietal, because I’ve tasted a lot of insipid stuff made in California. And the Aussies don’t usually devote a whole lot of vineyard space to this grape, favoring the mighty Shiraz instead. But this Merlot has a whole lot of style and character.

The fruit for Four Sisters Merlot 2008 comes from Victoria, which has a cooler climate than many of Australia’s wine regions. We know what cool does to grapes, right? When it’s managed correctly, it creates structure and acid in the fruit, and contributes to more intense, concentrated flavors.

The difference shows from the first sniff. I got  intense cherry and plum, with a sharp note that signals depth and structure. The palate offers gobs of rich dark  berry fruit, with a hit of cocoa, vanilla and spice. The French oak isn’t overpowering — it rounds out the finish while letting the bright fruit show.

If I were you, I’d go grab a bottle or 12. And if you have any sisters (I have two), grab them too. Share a glass of this and enjoy. Cheers!

  • Share/Bookmark

Mollydooker “The Boxer” Scores a Knock-out Punch


OK, I’ll jump on the bandwagon.

I’m usually not easy. I’m not the kind to just jump on any old wagon, and go along with the crowd.

But I tasted Mollydooker The Boxer last night, and here I go…

I love Australian Shiraz when it’s balls-to-the-walls, no-holds-barred, straight up and intense. That’s how Sarah & Sparky, proprietors of Mollydooker, make their wines. They aren’t farmers — they don’t grow their own grapes. Instead, they buy grapes from growers they’ve built a bond with over the years; growers they trust to produce kick-ass fruit.

Sarah & Sparky used to make wine for other award-winning wineries, such as Marquis Philips and  Henry’s Drive. They kept getting all these amazing scores from wine critics all around the world, and earned a wagon-load of awards like “Australian Winemakers of the Year” and Wine Spectstor’s Top 10 Wines of the World. Finally, the light-bulb went off and they got the idea to create their own label. They chose the name Mollydooker, which is an Australian expression for left-handed, because they both are! Left-handed, that is. You should check out their website: they have lots of cool stories and YouTube videos.

Their Mollydooker wines are the darlings of critics — they’ve never earned less than 90 points, and five have scored the magic 99 points from the Wine Advocate. That ain’t easy… The wine I tasted is their “entry level” wine, only because their pricier labels sell so quickly that I couldn’t buy them if I tried!

So here’s my take on Mollydooker The Boxer 2009. The nose offers some red berry fruit, spice and smoky forest floor. The palate, though, is much more luscious, offering creamy mocha and vanilla up front, and then bright acid as it finishes. The balance is what makes this wine classic: it settles somewhere between voluptuous and elegant.

If you can find a bottle of any of the Mollydooker wines, grab it. Lay it down if you must, but not for too long: you shouldn’t delay this kind of fun for too long. Cheers!

  • Share/Bookmark
Wine Accessories

Switch to our mobile site