Steels Creek Estate 2013 Cabernet Franc

Steels Creek CFCabernet Franc is not a style that we often see vinified as a single varietal, but when it’s done well, it can be at least the equal of its better known cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Most frequently, Cabernet Franc is used in the classic Bordeaux blends to provide charm, aromatics and fragrance to what is my all-time favourite red blend.

In Victoria’s Yarra Valley there aren’t a lot of winemakers braving a single varietal of the style, but on a recent field trip we happened upon the Steels Creek Estate 2013 Cabernet Franc.

It’s a remarkably vivacious style in its youth and shows a lively deep cherry colour in the glass with a lighter rufescent edge on the rim.  Whilst it’s only medium in body, there is a vibrance to the blackcurrant and cranberry fruits that emerge from the savoury shadows of your first whiff in the glass. The luscious red fruits evolve and embrace the palate in a generous bear hug before tobacco and cassis undercurrents appear at the back end.  The balance is terrific as oak characters embolden on the finish and allow the seductive Cabernet Franc to fragrantly weave its intoxicating aura, leaving your taste buds yearning for that next sip.

It’s a wine made only in small quantities (one barrique) so economies of scale aren’t able to constrain the cost, but even at $40 a bottle, I reckon it’s a “must” for the discerning cellar.

Our wine reviewer, Travis Schultz, is a practice group leader of Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, part of the Slater and Gordon group, and lover of fine food and wine

Taylors St Andrews Single Vineyard Clare Valley Shiraz 2009

Taylors St Andrews ShirazThey are the Artisans who created one of my all-time favourite Rieslings and now, the team at Taylors are using fruit from the very same region to craft a Shiraz that arouses my tastebuds in much the same way.

The Taylors St Andrews Shiraz hails from South Australia’s Clare Valley and the 2009 vintage I recently cracked is even more impressive now than when I was first blessed with the experience some three or four years ago.

In the glass, it’s a deep, dark bloodshot colour which is rufescent around the edges.  There are hints of savoury molasses characters on the nose, but once on the front palate, its layer upon layer of delicious (sweet) stewed plums and toffee apple characters with an edge of chocolate, black forest cake and coffee at the back end.  It almost makes me feel like I’m visiting the Shingle Inn!

But the real appeal of the St Andrews is its undeniable richness and the mouth filling, yet voluptuous feel of the premium Shiraz fruit as it transitions across every stage of the palate.

Not surprisingly, it isn’t cheap (the current vintage sells at $65 a bottle), but class costs: and I suspect it will only improve over the next decade or so.

Our wine reviewer, Travis Schultz, is a practice group leader of Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, part of the Slater and Gordon group, and lover of fine food and wine

Seville Hill No 8 Shiraz 2012

Seville HillWhat was once a small apple and cherry orchard near Seville in Victoria’s Yarra Valley is now Seville Hill Estate; a six hectare vineyard producing low volumes of high quality Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet and Shiraz grapes.  Agriculturalists John and Josie D’Alosio removed the fruit trees and planted Cabernet Sauvignon vines in 1991, but have since expanded their range to include graftings of some Italian styles like Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese and Tempranillo in 2011.

And while their Cabernet is excellent, I reckon their 2012 No 8 Shiraz is the standout from the stable.  It’s a perfect compromise between structure and power as the upfront black cherry and mocha characters robustly drive their way through a mouth-filling mid-palate, before pepper and subtle spices meet French Oak and subdued tannins at the finish.  It’s a wine of great integrity as it flows seamlessly despite layer upon layer of flavours unfolding as it weaves its magic through your mouth.

There’s enough natural acidity to suggest that despite its current drinkability, it will only improve over the next decade or so – not that I can see it laying in my cellar racks for that long!

At $60 a bottle it’s not a quaffer, but undoubtedly one of the best Shiraz from the region that I have ever had the privilege to enjoy.

De Bortoli Sacred Hill Chardonnay 2015

De Bortoli Sacred Hill ChardonnayThe value end of the retail wine spectrum is a busy if not duopolistic space, but if you can look past the “specials” promoted by the Coles and Woolworths operations, there are some Australian made wines punching well above their weight.  Like the De Bortoli Sacred Hill Chardonnay 2015.

It’s a product of the Riverina region near Griffith in New South Wales where the warm dry climate is well suited to growing high volumes of white wines like Semillon and Chardonnay.  Such is its suitability to viticulture that the Riverina is, in fact, now the second biggest wine producing area in Australia!

Unlike many of its competitors at the quaffing price point, the Sacred Hill does not give the impression of being a mass produced product best stored in cardboard!  It shows lively fruit throughout yet possesses great poise and balance.  The nose is somewhat unyielding but reveals its French oak exposure from the outset with perhaps just a slight hint of nectarine.  Once on the palate, voluptuous pear, stone fruit and honeydew melon characters embrace gentle acids and drive their way to a long crisp finale.

It’s a remarkable wine given its $5 price tag and well suited as a quaffer or when catering for the crowds.

 

Our wine reviewer, Travis Schultz, is a practice group leader of Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, part of the Slater and Gordon group, and lover of fine food and wine

Bird in Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay 2012

Bird in Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay 2012I have tried some seriously good Chardonnay in my time and expensive ones at that; but few, if any, have been better than the Bird in Hand Nest Egg 2012.  And it seems that it’s not just my own palate that has been thoroughly impressed by the Nest Egg.  James Halliday gave it an outstanding 95 points in his 2014 Wine Companion and it even won Best Wine of Show at the International Cool Climate Wine Show in 2014.

As the $75 price tag suggests, it’s an indulgent style but one which hints at nectarine and toasted cashews on the nose and a zippy citric creaminess through the middle.  The obvious influence of malolactic fermentation may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that process and some exposure to quality French oak, has added a creamy complexity that oozes sophistication and adds palate weight through to a lingering finale.  I love the way that a gentle acidity and a toasty oakiness caress and cajole your tastebuds yet deliver an overwhelming elegance to a world class wine.  It’s not cheap, but it’s bound to become an Australian icon.

 

Our wine reviewer, Travis Schultz, is a practice group leader of Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, part of the Slater and Gordon group, and lover of fine food and wine

Cumulus Climbing 2015 Pinot Gris

Cumulus Climbing 2The cool climate, dry autumns and elevated vineyards in Orange, New South Wales, make it an ideal environment for growing Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but it may be the Alsatian inspired Pinot Gris grape that puts it front and centre of the viticultural map.  In the United States, Pinot Gris is now the second biggest selling style of dry white wine (after Chardonnay) and it’s slowly gaining momentum here Down Under. Its growing popularity is probably a reflection of the compromise it offers between aromatic and austere, and the inoffensive nature of its gentle acid backbone.

The Cumulus Climbing 2015 Pinot Gris is a genuine ambassador for the Orange locals as it delivers all the best of the Pinot Gris’s attributes, but at a sub $20 price tag.  And it’s all about texture, mouth feel and palate weight.

Sure, there are some delightful pear, Fuji apple and Quince flavours that remain lively right across the palate, but it’s the way the wine emboldens and expands as it builds to its defined but well constrained conclusion, that makes it such an attractive drink-now proposition. Some French Oak exposure and a bit of stirring on lees have given it a riper, fuller and more textural presence and leave a sense of opulence as you impulsively reach for the glass to take just another sip. It’s approachable on its own, but also well suited to pairing with spicy Asian dishes.

Chard Farm River Run Pinot Noir 2013

Chard Farm Pinot NoirWhilst wines stored in your cellar need constant, if not coolish temperatures, it’s an entirely different rule for winemakers applying their viticultural skills to the developing fruit in the vineyard.  Around the world, growing regions with the greatest variation in daily and seasonal temperatures tend to produce the best fruit for winemaking purposes and there’s no better example than Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island.

In Otago, the semi-continental climate experiences seasonal extremes with hot dry summers and cold, snow packed winters. And the impact on fruit quality is obvious, especially in Pinot Noir from the region.

Chard Farm is one of the well-established wineries in Central Otago, having some 25 years or so of production under its belt and it’s now turning out some world class Pinot.  Their River Run Pinot Noir 2013 is selling at a $35 price point and exhibits all of the characteristics that have put the region on the viticultural map.

In the glass, the vibrant ruby redness telegraphs a fresh liveliness that will have your tastebuds salivating well before the first sip.  Take a whiff and the red cherried fruit aromas are a prologue for the arrival of spicy violet and sage notes across the mid palate, while fine tannins, minerality and a gentle acidity provide elegance to a lingering strawberry epilogue.

It’s a world class wine, but without the Burgundian price tag.

Pepper Tree Estate Grown Wrattonbully Merlot 2013

Pepper Tree Estate Grown Wrattonbully MerlotThe Wrattonbully wine region is sandwiched between Coonawarra and Padthaway in South Eastern South Australia and, just like its neighbouring districts, enjoys regionally distinctive terroir and abundant underground water.  The Terra Rossa soils and limestone ridges have proven to be an ideal environment for growing Cabernet and Shiraz, but also Merlot wines of unusual power and persistence.

The Pepper Tree 2013 Merlot is made from 100% Merlot fruit and is sourced from the Wrattonbully vineyards on the southern end of the Limestone Coast.  And it’s definitely not your typically soft and mellow style!  The nose is slightly dusty and reeks of plump ripe raspberries, but once on the palate a spicy cascade of mulberries and blackcurrants become a mouth-filling tidal wave of voluptuous richness. It’s perhaps a few steps beyond ‘medium bodied’, but the plush fruit, hints of cassis and plums allow it to carry through a lengthy conclusion.

There’s a lashing of savoury oak to add balance at the back but it’s powerless to constrain the overwhelming peppery spiciness that is the hallmark of the region.

The power and presence of the Pepper Tree Merlot is atypical of the style and will appeal to lovers of full bodied reds, especially at its $19 price point.

Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz 2012

Wolf Blass Gold Label ShirazWolfgang Franz Otto Blass was born in Germany in 1934 but by the youthful age of 27 had moved to the Barossa Valley in South Australia and established his own “Wolf Blass Wines” label only five years later.  It didn’t take long for this German national has become an Australian icon of the wine industry having won a record four Jimmy Watson trophies for his handiwork with Barossa fruit.

These days, the brand is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, but is still pumping out some terrific wines under the Wolf Blass label.  The current Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz is the 2012 vintage and is selling at only around $25 a bottle.  It’s a certain winner in the value for money stakes as it displays all of the fruit intensity that we’d expect from the region, but with an integrity that belies its price point.  Put it with a decent steak and the intensely ripe fruit will cavort with some lovely toasty oak characters in the middle, before a savoury spiciness descends on the back palate.  To me, the real attraction of the wine is the probity of its conclusion which is true to the rich heritage of the region, but balances lashings of French oak to bring a dry edge to the finish.  I have no doubt that even Mr Blass himself would be proud of this one!

Mount Michael Bessie’s Block Pinot Noir 2013

Mount Michael Bessie's BlockPinot Noir is a finicky grape to grow but a truly magnificent style of wine; but only if all the stars align in the vineyard!.  And in Central Otago in New Zealand’s South Island, the celestial objects are seemingly well trained as average vintages are the exception to the rule, at least in so far as their Pinot Noir is concerned.

If the Mount Michael Bessie’s Block Pinot Noir 2013 is any guide, the 2013 season was obviously very good despite a chilly start to the Spring.  Winemaker, Sarah-Kate Dineen, has made the most of the region’s hot dry summer, crafting their Pinot Noir juice from their Lowburn vineyards into an exceptional wine of power, presence and finesse. It’s unmistakably “Otago” and exhibits all the hallmarks that the metamorphic schists in the loamy well drained soils of the region are famous for, but with perhaps less of the cool climate sophistication and more of an up-front fruit focus.

As their Premium Reserve wine, you’d expect something special, but that quality is evident from the first whiff of its chocolate and sage nose in the glass.  There’s a certain punchiness to the sweet cherry and preserved plum fruit characters that swagger their way across the palate before meeting a savoury herbaceousness and some gentle tannins at the conclusion.  The exposure to new French Oak adds finesse and balance and although it’s definitely not cheap, I reckon it’s worth every penny of its $50+ price tag.

 

Our wine reviewer, Travis Schultz, is a practice group leader of Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, part of the Slater and Gordon group, and lover of fine food and wine