Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Wine Tasting Down Under - Part 4

Wine Tasting Down Under -Part 4
Big Wines in Big Bottles in the Barossa....

Wine Guy Mark Gapinski and his family traveled to New Zealand and Australia this past summer and wrote about the experience for the newsletter..... read Mark's profile here:
Mark Gapinski

Our family vacation this summer took us to Australia and New Zealand. In Parts 1 and 2, I related our food and wine experiences in New Zealand’s Otago Valley. I was certain I could capture our experiences in Adelaide and the Barossa in one final part. Ever verbose and with abundant content, however, I’ll need two additional parts. In this, now part 3 of 4 parts, I’ll describe our experiences from our visit to Adelaide and our journey to the Barossa Valley.

Two Hands Winery is a leisurely, twenty-minute walk from The Louise, the wine country inn where we had based ourselves in the Barossa Valley. Shiraz fans know that The Grapevine Cottage carries several bottlings from this producer. Two Hands organizes their wines into four tiers. The Picture Series wines like The Big Lebowski inspired Gnarly Dudes Shiraz and Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon are larger production wines.

 The Garden Series including Bella’s Garden and Lily’s Garden Shiraz seek to explore regional differences in Southern Australia Shiraz. The Single Vineyard series further explores regionality by selecting only the best vineyard blocks from the Garden Series Regions.  Finally, the Premier Series selects the best barrels from the best vineyards, the cream of the crop.

We were offered tastings from each category. The winemaking from all series were exceptional. Very clear expression of Shiraz was evident across the board. It was interesting to compare and contrast Shiraz from different regions in the Barossa, including nearby Eden and Clare Valleys and the McLaren Vale. Small differences in climate and soil translate into wines with significant differences color, aroma, flavors and acidity.

The Single Vineyard wines were magnificent. We tasted the 2016 Holy Grail and Secret Block bottles from this series. Both were big and bold with blackberry and dark plum flavors with ample body to stand up to zesty barbecued meat courses. Lastly, We sampled the 2014 Ares from the Premier Series. Made from the top 8 parcels, Ares had a beautiful and intense nose, evident even when the wine was being poured. The taste was similar to Holy Grail only with the volume cranked up several notches.

Next on our list was Torbreck Winery, another Grapevine Cottage favorite. Torbreck was most likely founded by a Scotsman since Celtic allusions are pretty much everywhere. The name Torbreck itself refers to a Scottish forest near Inverness. Torbreck has a beautiful, airy and welcoming Cellar Door. The tasting started off with their entry-level wines such as The Woodcutter Shiraz and The Steading blend and went up from there.

Many of these wines are made from very old Shiraz vines, some planted in the 1880s. So when you see “old vines” on a Barossa wine label, they are some of the oldest vines anywhere. Thanks to strict conservancy practices, the Barossa has never been subject to a phylloxera infestation that has destroyed many vineyards around the world. Rather than pulling up the old vines and planting resistant rootstock, the Barossans have chosen to keep the old vines and strictly manage what is allowed in their vineyards. The top wine we tasted here was the Run Rig Shiraz. Run Rig is a Celtic term referring to a system of land distribution by Highland clansmen. This beauty was all about blackberries and blueberries with chocolate and tobacco notes in a gloriously long, smooth finish.

We were offered a tour of a cellar just off the tasting room. Here, I saw one of the most remarkable bottles I have ever encountered in a wine cellar. The Laird, a nod to the Celtic word for Lord, is Torbreck’s top Shiraz. While magnificent, I’m sure, it is quite expensive with a 750mL bottle retailing for $540 on the Torbreck website. In this cellar I saw a 27-liter bottle of 2013 The Laird. Three cases of wine in a single bottle! It must have weighed over 100 pounds, dwarfing the six liter bottle (a mere eight 750mL bottles) sitting next to it. 

A Nebuchadnezzar is a 15L bottle of wine containing 20 750mL bottles. I do not believe there is a term for a bottle containing 36 750mL bottles, but Godzilla might be a good starting point. “Why?” was all I could utter. Our tasting guide said Torbreck sells several of these bottles each year primarily for corporate events and weddings. A little arithmetic puts this bottle around $20,000. There’s a wine for everyone I like to say.

I must give a shout out to FermentAsian in Tanunda. We had Sunday lunch there featuring some of the finest Vietnamese food I have ever tasted. Moreover, the wine list here, encompassing more than 90 pages, was one of the most comprehensive I have seen. In addition to hundreds of wines, many had tasting notes.  This list was a true labor of love. With Vietnamese food I wanted to go with Riesling. Needless to say, there were many from which to choose. The somm steered me to a 2016 Peter Lauer Unterstenberg Fass 12 Riesling from the Saar region.

Sunday lunch was a seven-course affair that began with betel leaves stuffed with pork belly and wound its way through Hanoi spring rolls, grilled shrimp with green mango salsa, spicy smoked duck and ultimately a heavenly Massaman curry. The Riesling was a glorious partner for all these flavors. We finished with some Vietnamese coffee. In addition to Appellation, FermentAsian belongs on the radar screen of anyone visiting the Barossa Valley.

Hoping to complete my Hill of Grace tasting quest, we decided to go directly to the source. We aimed our car toward Eden Valley and off we went. Henschke Cellars, in Keyneton, is a bit out of the way, but certainly worth the trip. The tiny tasting room is full of old photos of previous generations of winemakers.   Looking through the product lineup, I was struck by how many different varietal wines Henschke produces. There were the expected Chardonnay and several Shiraz, but there were also Gruner Veltliner, Semillon among the whites and Tempranillo, Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir among the reds, not to mention blends, late harvest wines and sparklers.

We tasted many excellent wines. My favorite was the 2014 Keyneton Euphonium. This Shiraz blend featured the typical blackberry and plum flavors, but also had a pleasant herbal and black pepper quality. Graceful tannins made for a long finish. Fearing this wonderful wine might be the end of the tasting, I asked if there was a possibility of tasting Hill of Grace. With a chuckle our server replied, “I’m afraid not”.

I offered to sing, perhaps do a bit of standup comedy or even offer an on-the-spot organic chemistry tutorial for no more than a tablespoon of Hill of Grace. I could tell she was tempted, but ultimately no Hill of Grace was poured.  In retrospect, I should have signed up for the premium tasting as I did at Penfolds. While my quest would not be fulfilled this day, my pursuit of Hill of Grace may lure me to Australia another day. Not at all a bad thing!  

The Barossa Valley visit concluded our visit to Australia and New Zealand. After three and half weeks down under, it was time to go home. A great many sights, sounds, smells and tastes remain in our memories from this journey. I hope readers can use the experiences I’ve related in this series to make their visit down under even more enjoyable.

Part I, Part II, Part III