Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Visit to the Cartoon Decorated Molly Dooker Winery

(Feb. 15, 2016) I must admit that I’ve never been a fan of cartoon wine labels, but at the same time recognize that they have helped Molly Dooker to differentiate itself on the global wine scene. However, given the fame of their wines now, I’m not sure that the cartoon labels are still necessary. And indeed, they have dispensed with this custom on their high-end Black Velvet wine, which comes in a simple black bottle. On the other hand, the cartoons are part of what attracts many of my Millennial wine students to this winery.

We arrived around 11:30 in the morning without an appointment to find the tasting room was an old house converted into cellar door. Situated on a hill, the view from the terrace is very beautiful.  As we entered, we passed several large cartoon cut-outs (see photo) and we greeted instantly by a friendly lady at the front desk in a small living room.

A Sparkling Verdelho and Wine Shaking System

She asked if we wanted to taste wine, and when we said yes, she invited us into a second room with a large table set-up with 12 different wine bottles in stations. Again, there was no tasting fee and we were invited to try anything we wanted. We started with their everyday casual series of wines and enjoyed the novelty of a sparkling verdelho. We were especially impressed with the “shake system” on most of the wines, where you shake the bottle to release the CO2 capsule inside so the wine remains fresh.

Tasting the #2 Wine in the World – 2012 Carnival of Shiraz

However, it was the more premium wines on the other side of the table that really impressed us. I had tasted the 2012 Carnival of Shiraz at the Wine Spectator Grand Event in New York two years ago, but we were allowed to taste it again (for free!!!), even though they were sold out. We were encouraged to compare it against the 2014 that they had just released. Both had incredible concentration, velvety berry and spices, excellent complexity and one of the longest finishes I have ever tasted on a wine.

I’m always amazed that Australians are so generous with their famous wines, allowing the casual visitor (we never introduced ourselves) to taste whatever we wanted. This would never happen in Napa or Bordeaux, unless you were willing to pay a lot for the tasting.

Blue-Eyed Boy Shiraz

We also tasted the very high-end Velvet Glove wine, and found it to be a more elegant shiraz made in a lighter style. But it was the Blue-Eyed Boy that we fell in love with and purchased a bottle to take home. This wine was dripping with blueberry and milk chocolate, with huge velvety tannins and a spicy finish. Though it lacked the elegance of Carnival, it was extremely satisfying in the big, lush, mouth-filling manner that we’ve come to expect of a premium Australian shiraz.

Molly Dooker Means “Left Handed”

As we were finishing our tasting, a large group entered the tasting room, and we were happy we arrived when we did for a quiet and uninterrupted tasting.  As we departed, the hospitality rep offered to take our picture in front of the small fireplace in the living room with the Molly Dooker sign above. We learned that in Australia, the term “Molly Dooker” refers to a left-handed person. Both Sarah and Sparky, the owners, are left-handed.

View of Vineyards from Molly Dooker

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Visiting the Black Sheep Winery of Hugh Hamilton in McClaren Vale, Australia

(Feb. 14, 2016) The entrance to Hugh Hamilton Winery is stunning, with a curved gray wall at the beginning and then a long driveway lined with tall green cypress trees.  Along the drive, there are four “sheep dips”, which are upside down speed bumps, each marked with a cute sign with a sheep.” At the far end of the driveway is a tall circular building set on a hilltop and surrounded by vineyards.  An imposing flight of steps leads to the building, and sitting in the center of the staircase is a statue of a sheep. The whole effect is both very impressive and creative.

Once you climb the steps and pat the sheep on the head for good luck, you enter the circular tasting room to see a wine bar and a beautiful 360 view of the vineyards displayed outside the circular glass windows. We were instantly greeted by two friendly hospitality reps and invited to taste some wine.

As we tasted, we were delighted to see a series of large Australian magpie birds fly in and station themselves on the top of posts in the vineyard. It was as if we were being greeted by a small army of black and white soldiers, who watched us through the windows as we enjoyed our wine.

One of the aspects I enjoy most about visiting Australian wineries is the fact that most do not charge a tasting fee. We were told that this practice is slowly changing, but in 2016 most are still complimentary. At Hugh Hamilton, this was also the case, and we were invited to taste a variety of wines. They were all well-made with unique attributes, but my favorites were: 
  • Sparkling – The Drama Queen: made in the Champenoise method with all 3 traditional grapes, this wine entices with a floral nose, rich creamy palate, fine mousse and crisp acid finish. Elegant.
  • Pinot Grigio – The Trickster: a medium-bodied white wine with notes of pear and spice, with a refreshing citrus finish.  Great on a hot day.
  • Red Blend (Shiraz Mataro Saperavi) - Black Ops:  deep, dark, and brooding with plum, spice, and anise.  A very rare blend with a touch of Saperavi (the signature grape of Georgia!)
  • Shiraz – Black Blood III: An elegant velvety shiraz with classic ripe berries and chocolate, but also some complex herbs and a very long finish. 
  • Shiraz – Pure Black:  This is their very high end shiraz, and it does not disappoint.  Made in a Grange-like style, it is very concentrated with complex dark berry, olive, and chocolate. Long, seamless,and very well-balanced.

 Our visit here was wonderful, highlighted by friendly service and great wines.  I also enjoyed the motto of this winery: “Black Sheep – every family has one.”