Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Magnificent Tasting at Penfold’s Magill Estate Winery

(Feb. 20, 2016) On our last day in Adelaide, we were fortunate to obtain a private tasting at Penfold’s Magill Estate with winemaker, Jason Barrette, and Hospitality Director, Jane Gibbs. This was organized by famous Australian photographer, Milton Wordley, who is good friends with Peter Gago. When Milton learned I hadn’t visited Penfold’s since 2003, he insisted on setting up the visit for us. We are very glad we followed his advice.

Old Vines Saved from Bulldozer by Winemakers

The Magill Estate is located in a suburb of Adelaide, and boasts 12 acres of old shiraz vines.  It is the only vineyard within a city limit within Australia, and was saved from being demolished by bulldozers when dozens of winemakers protested its destruction.  All of the other vineyards in the area were pulled out for a housing development.  It is also the original homestead of Dr. Penfold, and therefore the heart of the famous and historic wine brand. Penfold’s Grange and Bin 707 are both produced at Magill, as well as other high-end wines in the Penfold’s portfolio.

The winery complex is beautiful with its mellowed natural rock exterior, complemented by a new modern cellar door.  From the steps you can look back across the Magill Vineyard to Adelaide, with the Gulf of St. Vincent’s shining blue in the distance.

Rock Exterior of Penfolds

Six Amazing Wines

Jane ushered us through the beautiful new tasting room, with its light and airy modern architecture blending amazingly well with the old rock walls of the original winery.  We passed the new restaurant, and then entered a private tasting room in the back where Jason was already ensconced next to a flight of six wines.  I was touched that they had taken the time to print up personalized tasting mats for us.

Modern Penfold's Cellar Door
The next hour was magical as Jason tasted us through the six wines and then provided a quick tour of the winery. His passion for the wines and high level of knowledge were evident, and he also displayed a fun sense of humor. He provided the perfect level of detail on the wines:

2012 Yattarna Chardonnay – made from multiple vineyards across Australia, this chardonnay was impressive with its mineral and lemon nose, streamlined palate, crisp acid, flint and nutty notes – reminiscent of Chassagne Montrachet.  Well-balanced with a long and satisfying finish.  Barrel-fermented with batonnage in55% new French Oak, aged 8 months.

2014 Cellar Reserve Pinot Noir – a medium-bodied, fleshier style of pinot noir with a dark ruby robe.  Lovely floral and spice notes on the nose, following by mixed berry and sage on the palate. Surprisingly muscular tannins for a pinot with generous French oak, well integrated – a cabernet lover’s pinot. 100% fruit from Adelaide Hills, 30% whole cluster, cold soak for 4 to 6 days, wild ferment, hand plunging 5 to 8 times per day.  Free run to barrel, 77% new oak, 9 months on full lees.

2012 St. Henri Shiraz – we loved the elegance of this shiraz with fine-grained tannins, mixed berry, sage, lavender and a hint of mint.  Fermented in stainless steel, it then spent 18 months in foudre. There is a 2% addition of cab, and it is designed to be a contrast to the concentrated style of Grange.  The vineyards are older, established in the 1950’s, and this wine focuses on highlighting the elegance of the vineyard.

2013 Magill Estate Shiraz – made from the old vineyard in front of the winery, the Magill Estate Shiraz has long been a favorite of ours.  It has the classic blueberry and raspberry notes of shiraz, but also has bitter chocolate and some complex herb notes, with oodles of well-integrated sweet oak.  Jason said it was made in concrete coated in the traditional beeswax, and then aged in 100% new oak; 2/3 French and 1/3 American for 15 months.

2013 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon – this cab is very inviting with warm mixed berry compote, tobacco, floral notes, and the rich coconut and dill of 100% American oak. I felt like I was tasting Silver Oak, but in a much more concentrated style. Jason said it is not made every year, and that at $500 per bottle is the #1 wine they sell in Asia. It is made from a mix of 3 viticultural regions: 40% Adelaide Hills, 30% Barossa, and 30% Connawarra.  It is massive, concentrated, and completely satisfying, but needs time in bottle or decanting.

Heavenly Tasting of Six Wines at Penfold's

Tasting Heavenly Syrup in the 2008 Grange

2008 Grange – the last wine of the tasting was the Big Boy, of course. I have only tasted Grange on two previous occasions, and it never disappoints.  It truly is the icon wine of Australia. Priced now at $785 Australian a bottle, it is the most expensive wine in the country. The 2008 is an especially wonderful vintage, as it is only one of less than a dozen wines (ever!) to receive 100 points from both Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator.

The 2008 vintage is 96% shiraz and 2% cab from 12 different vineyards: 89% Barossa, 9% Clare and 2% Magill.  Jason said they always put a little Magill in the blend. The grapes are handpicked and selected in the vineyard, and then gently destemmed and crushed. They are placed in an open top cement fermenter, where they undergo an 8 – 10 day fermentation. It is then aged 18 – 21 months in American oak. The blend is not assembled until after aging and when all lots have been classified. Only the best lots make it into Grange. It is usually a blend, but there have been 6 years when it was 100% shiraz.

The wine is incredibly powerful, but filled with finesse and an endless finish.  It has the classic nose of warm berries and chocolate, with huge velvety tannins on the palate and a concentration that is almost syrup like.  New flavors of blueberry, anise, vanilla, and mocha are revealed with each sip. A truly amazing and memorable wine.

It is called Grange Bin 95 because each of the bottle storage bins in Magill’s underground cellars used to be numbered, and many years ago Grange just happened to be stored in the number 95 bin.

With Winemaker, Jason Barrette, in Penfold's Barrel Room

Quick Tour of the Cellar and Sip of the 2016 Grange

After the tasting of a lifetime, Jason offered us a quick tour of the cellar.  We jumped at the chance because we knew the 2016 Magill and perhaps other components of Grange were bubbling away in happy fermentation.

As we walked along the path from the tasting room to the cellar, I was once again impressed by the beauty of the old rock buildings, bathed in the sunlight. Jason opened the door to the cellar and we stepped onto a catwalk to overlook a vast sea of square cement bins, each filled with what seemed to be a surging mass of red and purple. It was the birth of the 2016 Penfold’s shiraz contender, bubbling away madly in a joyful rush of fermentation.

Fermenting Shiraz
Jason requested a sample from one of the many worker’s on the floor.  We were brought a small glass of opaque ruby liquid, and Jason handed it to me to taste. Notes of raspberry jam wafted from the glass, and followed through on the palate as I enjoyed the new wine brimming with notes of spice and mixed berry compote.

“There,” said Jason.  “Now you can tell people you had the first taste of one of the potential components of the 2016 Grange.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes,” he nodded.  “Because you just tasted Magill, and we always put Magill in the blend.”

I felt very pleased, and incredibly blessed by our magical visit to Penfold’s.  My husband was so impressed by our visit  that when we arrived back in California, he insisted we buy a case of Penfold’s. So I got in touch with some friends at Treasury, and a few weeks later a mixed case of Penfold’s wines arrived on our front porch.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

One Day Wine Tasting in the Barossa Valley, Australia

(Feb. 19, 2016) At the end of our 3 day conference, we signed up to attend the one-day private wine tasting tour in the Barossa Valley. Just like the McClaren Vale, I had visited Barossa several times previously, but this time there were some new wineries on the agenda.

Previous Evening Dinner at Hill of Grace Restaurant

Given the fact that we had enjoyed a 5-course dinner paired with wine at the Hill of Grace Restaurant in the Adelaide Oval Stadium the evening before, the 8am departure was a bit challenging. Especially since our dinner had started at 7:30pm with wonderful Henchke sparkling, and did not conclude until around 1am. We were treated to an amazing variety of Australian specialties, including lobster, prawns, quail, kangaroo, lamb, and chocolate all paired beautifully with Henchke wines.  Therefore the mood on the bus on the one hour drive to the Barossa was a bit quiet.

Dinner at Hill of Grace Restaurant at Adelaide Oval

Charlie Melton Winery

Our first stop was the Charlie Melton Winery, which I had never visited before. I was enchanted with the old wooden bar that served as his cellar door, surrounded by ancient vineyards, many over 100 years old.

At Charlie Melton Winery
Charlie himself welcomed us, and explained this was the earliest vintage in his 43 years of winemaking. He said if we didn’t believe in global warming, then we should!  We started in the winery, where we watched them emptying tanks of fermented shiraz into large plastic tubs that were transported via forklift to the press. A young Australian Shepard darted through our group of 20 to try to lap at the spray from the hoses washing down the tubs.

Then we settled down to a private tasting of 4 wines at a long table set-up on the veranda, overlooking a green lawn with the heritage vines just beyond. They were a magnificent site in their gnarled old bush vine glory, heavy with purple clusters of Grenache.

We tasted one rose and three shiraz wines, and all exhibited unique character and a natural reflection of the land. The wines were served with fresh baked bread, olives, and oil. Charlie described his winemaking philosophy as one of traditional Australian values, while the Australia Shephard roved around the table and tried to entice people to throw a toy to her.  It was a great way to start the day!
Old Vine Grenache at Charlie Melton Winery

Grant Burges Winery

Recently purchased by Accolade, Grant Burges Winery was in stark contrast to Charlie Melton. We were escorted to a shiny new private tasting room overlooking the vineyard, where we were invited to take a seat at a long elegant table. The Director of Hospitality and Marketing Manager reviewed the wines with us; beginning with a stunning sparkling that they said was one of the top selling wines in Australia.

We tasted through several different varietals, ending with the icon Mechas wine, which exhibited very good balance, firm tannins, spice, and a long finish. Another outstanding wine was the Eden Valley Riesling, which was quite affordable.

Tasting at Grant Burges Winery

Lunch at Jacob’s Creek

Like most Americans, my perception of Jacob’s Creek was one of cheerful value- priced wines. Therefore, it was educational to taste some of their higher quality wines over an excellent BBQ lunch served on a very long table in the garden, bordering the now dry Jacob’s Creek.

Relaxing on the Lawn at Jacob's Creek Winery
When we first entered the large and impressive winery grounds, we were greeted by servers offering us glasses of sparkling from a silver tray.  Then we were invited to relax on soft bean bags on a large expanse of green lawn, and nibble on fresh local bread and olives. We passed a delightful half-hour enjoying the sun and surroundings until summoned to lunch. 

The Director of Hospitality provided an informative overview of the history of Jacob’s Creek winery, while large platters of barbequed chicken, pork, potatoes, and fresh green salad were passed along the table. We enjoyed bottles of riesling, graciano, and shiraz, and enjoyed the high quality of the wines paired with the food. I left with a much better perception of Jacob’s Creek, and will remember our time spent there with fondness.

Lunch at Jacob's Creek Winery

Master Tasting at Yalumba Winery

Our last stop of the day was Yalumba Winery. I have long been impressed by this historic winery with its reputation for brilliant “stickies” – Australian dessert wines, as well as elegant shiraz and other varietals. Founded in 1849, Yalumba is one of the oldest wineries in Australia.

Yalumba Winery
The long yellow stone building with its distinctive tower is a Barossa Valley icon, and the grounds, with flowering shrubs and trees, are beautiful to behold. After wandering around a bit, we were ushered into the cooperage where we enjoyed a powerful exhibition of barrel building, where strong young men hammered the steel girdles onto the wooden staves to create a barrel.

Next we were invited to a seated master tasting for 4 viognier and 4 shiraz wines from different vineyards around Australia. The GM and marketing manager provided an information presentation on the family of Yalumba wines, which has a wide range of brands.  Then the winemaker led us through the tasting of wines.

Several of us were surprised at two of the viognier wines made with natural yeast that had a distinct note of sheep, or “wet wool” on the nose – rather like some chenin blancs from the Loire. The most impressive wine of the tasting was the Yalumba Signature Shiraz, which exhibited classic dark berry, spice, and pepper, and was made in a more elegant style with fine-grained tannins, aged in French oak.

Master Tasting of Viognier and Shiraz at Yalumba

Stopping to View the Albino Kangaroos

On the drive back to Adelaide, we drove through Eden Valley and the Adelaide Hills to descend on the winding road through the Gorge. Several people on our bus had never seen a kangaroo, and begged to stop at a small animal park along the route. While there, not only did we see kangaroos and an emu, but we saw a rare albino kangaroo and a koala in a tree-top.  Quite thrilling!

Dinner at Peel Street Café

Arriving back in Adelaide around 7pm, we relaxed at the hotel for a short time, and then met our relatives for dinner at Peel Street Café. This is a new, trendy restaurant where they serve delicious fresh local food with an Asian influence. The dishes were very creative, and we enjoyed banana flower with prawns and coconut, pork belly lemon grass salad, lamb shoulder with Greek vegetables, and a very spicy beef short rib.  I had a nice glass of Mornington Peninsula pinot noir for only $12 Australian ($9 US with exchange rate) – a very good value. The only down side to the restaurant were the uncomfortable bar stools.

Dinner at Peel Street Cafe

Three Delightful Days in McClaren Vale, Australia

Reunited with my Australian Relatives in McClaren Vale
(February 14 – 16, 2016) Our plane touched down in Adelaide around noon, but it only took a short time to pick up our rental car at Hertz and drive the 45 minutes to McClaren Vale.  We reached our private cottage around 1:30pm and after a shower and power nap, went to visit Hugh Hamilton Winery (see other post), before driving up Marshall Road to visit my relatives who live on top of the hill. As usual on this remote road, we passed at least 8 kangaroos jumping in the yellow grass.  As it was February (late summer in Australia), out visit was blessed with sunny and warm weather in the mid 70’s and 80’s F.

That first evening, we had a wonderful dinner of roast beef, grilled vegetables, and a big green salad all washed down with a variety of McClaren Vale shiraz wines.  We also sample some local cheeses, which we had with the Hugh Hamilton pinot grigio and sparkling pink moscato.  It was a great family reunion.

White Sandy Beaches

Beaches Near McClaren Vale
The next day we slept in, before driving to the beautiful white sand beach only 15 minutes from the small town of McClaren Vale.  Here we visited the Star of Greece restaurant and took a long walk on the beach, wading in the warm water of the Southern Ocean.

The sand on the beach is fine and powdery, and we had almost the whole stretch to ourselves.  Lovely and invigorating walk!

Salopian Inn
Food at the Salopian Inn

Later we visited Molly Dooker winery (see other post), and then had a late lunch at the Salopian Inn.  I would highly recommend this famous historic restaurant, because the food and wine were excellent. They even have a wine cellar downstairs where you can select your own bottle of wine and bring it back to your table.  I ordered the small plate of local fish, which was fresh and tasty.  It went well with a glass of sparkling vermentino, which they called “Verdecco” as a play on Prosecco.  Very clever, and very refreshing.

Victory Hotel Gastro Pub

That afternoon we rested, before heading out to dinner at the Victory Hotel. This is situated on a small rise overlooking the ocean with incredible sunset views.  The restaurant is actually a casual pub, but with excellent food. We ordered a variety of dishes to share, including grilled steak, local snapper and squid.  This time we tried a McClaren Vale Rousanne as well as a Shiraz. As we ate, the sun slowly slid into the ocean, creating an amazing display of soft colors across the landscape as it wove its way amongst strands of clouds.

Parrots and Kangaroos Prints

The next morning, I took a long walk down dusty roads that bordered vineyards and gum trees. Along the way, I saw many colorful green parrots and grey and pink gullaws. Then I came upon some strange looking footprints in the sandy soil. They were large with four indentions and spaced quite far apart. It took me a few minutes to realize they were kangaroo prints, from a roo that must have been jumping along the road.

That afternoon, we headed into Adelaide where we spent the next five nights at the Majestic Lion Apartments near the zoo.  It was a good location to attend the 3 day wine conference, and also visit many local sites.

Other Great Wineries in McClaren Vale

I must admit that this was my fourth visit to McClaren Vale over the past 20 years, and each time I have visited a variety of wineries. Since my relatives immigrated from the US to Australia in the 1970’s and settled in McClaren Vale, it has always been a wonderful place to visit. Over the years I have had wonderful visits to Noon Winery, D’arnberg, Chateau Reynella, Tintara, and many others.