Wednesday April 1, 2015 McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia
McLaren Vale is one of Australia’s key wine growing regions and definitely the best source for Grenache in the country. Australia’s oldest Grenache vines dating back to 1856 can be found in the region! It is located just south of the city of Adelaide sandwiched between the Gulf St. Vincent to the west and the Mount Lofty Ranges to the east. The geographical positioning ensures the region receives daily cooling winds in the afternoon off the ocean and that nighttime temperatures drop as much as 30 degrees on a regular basis. The region is pronouncedly cooler in the east as elevation climbs and cold winds off the Mount Lofty Ranges intensify. As you progress down the Vale towards the coast, the land flattens out and soil become sandier. We were lucky enough to visit wineries located in the east, center, and west of the Vale and to see three distinct styles of wine making.
d’Arenberg– Certainly the most historic and iconic winery in the region, wine making here dates back to 1912, but the vines are even older, going back to 1890 in some cases, making them the oldest in the region. Chester Osborne, head wine maker, is the 4th generation to take the helm. The winery does something quite unique in its production process; it still uses an 1860s basket press to press the juice from the grapes very gently, and also uses open top, large wood fermenters to hold the wine during the initial fermentation process. Since the winery has been expanding since 1912, the total acreage has reach 270 hectares. They are by far the largest land holders in the Vale, as well as the ones with the most breadth. The winery produces an incredible 60 different wines each year!
We were met by Mick Thompkins, Assstant Wine Maker and given a great tour of the facilities at the winery. We did actually taste through the entire portfolio, but I will highlight a few select wines that truly stood out. In a quirky twist, one of the first wines we tried was a sparkling dry red Chambourcin- the same one grown in Missouri! Crisp and lively, it served as a great example of the potential of this grape cultivated in our own back yard. Of the whites, I must say two, the “The Money Spider” Roussanne and “The Dry Dam” Riesling stood out the most. One of only two producers to tackle this variety in the Vale, the d’Arenberg Roussanne had bursting spice and melon notes to accent the ripe yellow peach and honeycomb flavor profile. The Riesling is a perennial winner of “Best Australian Riesling” at the Canberra National Wine Show (much to the dismay of Eden and Clare Valley producers). Crisp, rocky, petrol driven 2007 Riesling was definitely the biggest surprise of the day. The quirky names carry over to the reds where I have to say there are many incredible wines, but we will highlight three: “The Cenosilicaphobic Cat” Sagrantino/Cinsault blend was one of the most unique bottlings I have come across anywhere. Utilizing the rarely-found-outside-Umbria Sagrantino for its massive tannic structure combined with the rustic and black fruit driven Cinsault, this wine almost ripped our palates apart, but it would be incredible with a whole range of rich meat dishes. BTW, cenosilicaphobia is the fear of an empty glass. “The Beautiful View” Grenache, part of the Amazing Sites single vineyard line, is an incredible expression of Grenache. Ripe red fruits mix with spice and plum notes to create a complex and lingering medium bodied beauty. Truly one of the better new world interpretations of this grape. Finally, there was the “Dead Arm” Shiraz. One of the most iconic wines in Australia, it takes its name from the disease Eutypa Lata that causes one trunk or arm of the wine to slowly wither and die. It does not affect the other arm and results in those grapes having an incredible level of concentration, color, and weight. This wine is best described as brooding or beastly. Incredibly dense black fruit notes combine with olive tapenade, fennel, pepper, and leather.
The breadth of wines alone is worth the stop, but the winery is also home to d’Arry’s Veranda, an award winning bistro that gives anything else in Adelaide a run for its money. After an incredible 7 course lunch, we trudged onwards to our next destination.
Reeds Wine List:
2013. d’Arenberg “Peppermint Paddock” Sparkling Chambourcin. McLaren Vale. $45, $30 to go, Missouri Exclusive
2014. d’Arenberg “Dry Dam” Off-Dry Riesling. McLaren Vale. $36, $18 to go, Missouri Exclusive
Key Wines: “The Money Spider Roussanne”, “Beautiful View” Grenache, “Dead Arm” Shiraz, “The Cenosilicaphobic Cat” Sagrantino/Cinsault
As noted before, d’Arenberg makes over 60 wines,
for a complete list visit http:/obcwines.com/wineries/darenberg
Yangarra/Hickinbotham– Nestled into the coldest and windiest part of the Vale, just 2km from the Adelaide Hills appellation border, Hickinbotham lies in the Clarendon area at over 800 meters of elevation. Quite surprisingly, the land here is incredibly steep and machine harvesting is impossible. Almost no rain falls during the growing season and everything is dry farmed. This vineyard was planted in 1971 and was recently acquired by the Jackson Family Wines. Wine maker Charlie Seppelt showed us around both Hickinbotham and also Yangarra, located lower down in the valley. Hickinbotham proved to be a great site and “The Revivalist” Merlot showed an incredible depth and power for a grape not always associated with it. Unfortunately, the other three wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and a blend of the two) were all sold out, but that’s not a bad problem to have for the winery.
At Yangarra, the winery was a buzz with activity as Barbara Jackson would be making her first visit the following week. One young lady was even meticulously repositioning pebbles alongside the sidewalk as we arrived. The Yangarra wines were SOLID. Standouts include the Roussanne (the other producer of it in McLaren Vale), with its almond, honeycomb, and peach notes, the brooding Mourvedre with its leathery and tarry aromas and black fruit palate, and the dense and impressive “Ironheart” Shiraz grown at Hickinbotham. The Shiraz was quite Rhone-like with notes of black olives, blueberries, and fennel. Overall, this was definitely an expression of the colder sites of McLaren Vale. The wines were bright, fruit driven, but structured and dense.
Reeds Wine List: 2013. Yangarra “Old Vine” Grenache. McLaren Vale. $40, $27 to go
Key Wines: Roussanne, Mourvedre, Hickinbotham “Revivalist” Merlot, “Ironheart” Shiraz
Paxton Winery- Our last stop took us west closer to the coast, and the sandier soils of Paxton Winery. The winery is the only biodynamic winery in the Vale. We had the pleasure of spending time with Jennifer May, Cellar Door manager and Ben Paxton, Production and Winery Manager. The winery was founded in the mid 1970s by David Paxton, Ben’s dad, but started producing under the PAXTON label in 2000. The wines were very clean, varietal driven, and just absolutely delicious. The Graciano and Grenache in particular were a huge hit. Graciano is a blending grape used in the production of Spanish Rioja, and seldom seen outside of Spain let alone as a single varietal. Earthy, yet smooth, red fruit driven, a perfect middle-of-the-week sipper. The Grenache was yet again a testament to the quality of this varietal in McLaren Vale, the Paxton version being juicy, robust, and full of garrigue and savory olive notes. We are in the process of bringing Paxton Winery to the US, look for it in 2016!
Key Wines: “Thomas Block” Unoaked Chardonnay, Graciano, Tempranillo, “AAA” Grenache, “Jones Block” Shiraz, and the flagship “EJ” Shiraz