Yalumba Galway Malbec 2012


I’m mortified that it’s been exactly a month since my last post. It’s not that I’ve not been drinking some interesting wines in the interim – I have and the tasting notes are stacking up – but I always find the more I am writing for publication the far less inclined I am to write for fun after Master 4 goes to bed.

The release of this wine I actually wrote about for the last (June) SA Life food & wine enews – so for Yalumba background I refer you to that.

For wine geekery … stay here.

Malbec is perhaps most often recognised as the black grape of Argentina. It hails from France and you find its entry in Wine Grapes under its first French name, Cot. Originally from Quercy, a former province in the south-west of France, it appears to have arrived in the Gironde (Bordeaux) in the eighteenth century, which is also when its name ‘Malbeck’ is first recorded. DNA analysis shows us that Malbec is the half sibling Merlot.

Its plantings in Bordeaux were reduced by severe frosts in the mid-twentieth century which means that, although it’s still permitted in a Bordeaux blend, there’s not a great deal used though you will find it making up at least 70% of a wine labelled Cahors, from the nearby Lot region.

But it is in Argentina that it has really found its niche. Introduced in the mid nineteenth century, it is now the country’s most widely planted (quality) variety. Compared with Argentina’s roughly 27000 ha, Australia’s just under 400 ha seems minimal. Many of our plantings are in South Australia and Yalumba’s vine nursery has been instrumental in bringing the variety to the country.

Given how little is planted in Australia, I suspect that for many people this will be something of a new variety. I certainly found this wine much more approachable than many of the Argentine examples I’ve tried and I think anyone who enjoys big Australian reds should like this. I found it attractive in every aspect: in the class, how it smelt and how it tasted. My tasting notes wrap up with “smart and interesting for < $20”. If you are the kind of drinker who finds branching out a challenge, do yourself a favour and pick this up.

The wine

In the glass, really quite deep and a very pretty bright ruby/cherry red.

The nose was also attractive – showing bright red berry fruit, red and black cherries, some spice and even a hint of violet.

The palate follows through with those cherries. Black and red cherries with a hefty side of vanilla, although actually not badly balanced and certainly not madly tannic. There was a slight earthy character and while the wine was not massively complex, the length was pretty good and stayed balanced.

If you do not like wines with a big whack of oak this will not be your style, but it is not so over the top that it will blind you to the wine’s pretty fresh fruit.

Yalumba. Sample, RRP $17.99. The wine is a limited edition so you may need to look out for it.
13.5% abv.

Tim Smith Eden Valley Viognier 2013


Viognier is a grape I have a hard time getting along with so I was actually quite excited when the revamped WSET Level 2 syllabus included a Viognier in its tasting list. Now I have a legitimate excuse to try (hopefully) a range of Viogniers and see if I can come to terms with it.

This has worked in the past – I used to find Italian whites really dull but I persisted in drinking or tasting them and finally had a moment of epiphany with a Roero Arneis and from then on in it’s been a (somewhat qualified) love affair.

I used to flat out not like Viognier until I tasted a Condrieu at a wine dinner when I lived in the UK. Unfortunately, the wine retailed for around the £30-40 mark (sadly I can’t remember what it was or I’d tell you the Australian price and that would be even less affordable) and helped me make the decision I like expensive Viognier (!) and subsequently not really bother.

Viognier is a white grape which is grown in the northern Rhône, alongside Shiraz (Syrah). In the northern Rhône it may be co-fermented with Shiraz (such as in the wines of Côte Rôtie), produce single varietal whites (Condrieu, Château Grillet) or be made into white Rhône blends alongside Marsanne and Roussanne. Outside of the Rhône it is also found used in much the same way (indeed, in Australia Canberra’s Clonakilla pioneered the Rhône style Shiraz co-ferment). Really interestingly, DNA profiling suggests that Viognier is actually a grandparent of Shiraz*.

Teaching hat on – if I had to use one descriptor to describe Viognier it would be apricot. If you don’t like apricots, this is possibly not a grape variety for you!

I was really pleased with this wine (spoiler alert – subject to availability I’ll be using it again) – it shows off all the Viognier characteristics and is an all round lovely drink. The class responded equally enthusiastically so you don’t just have to take my word for it!

It is also cracking value.

The wine

In the glass, pale in colour and somewhere between straw and gold.

The nose was quite pronounced, showing stewed and tinned apricot, honey, and spices such as ginger and white pepper. The apricot was however, the dominant characteristic here.

The palate was again all about that stewed apricot but backed up with some spice. It had a lovely weight and mouth feel with definite richness and a slight oiliness. There was good persistent acidity and that pulled the spice all the way through to the end.

Tim Smith Wines, purchased from the Ed Cellars, $26.
13% abv.

* Wine Grapes, by Robinson, Harding & Vouillamoz.

Zeven Lemon Strawberry Blonde


So … when the email hit my inbox about trying out the new Zeven Lemon Strawberry Blonde beer I was just a little hesitant. My experience with fruit beers is limited, to say the least. I’ll profess a certain acquaintance with Belgian Kriek which is brewed with cherries. But Kriek is just a little bit special. It’s a Lambic beer, which means it’s been brewed with naturally occurring yeasts (‘normal’ beer is inoculated with a usually specially chosen strain of yeast) and it turns out very very sour. To say it’s an acquired taste is something of an understatement. And it’s a taste I have not yet acquired.

However, Zeven Leven is an ale that’s been brewed with strawberry juice so I while I was confident (or should that be hopeful?) that I wouldn’t be faced with a super sour beer, I was still a bit nervous because sometimes this type of beverage can end up being overwhelmingly sweet. The beer comes to us from Sydney, where Leimin Duong, a self taught brewer, set up Zeven Lemon Beerworks (apparently Australia’s second 100% owned and run female brewery – does anyone know the first/other?). Duong did some work experience and created her development batches at Sydney’s St Peter’s Brewery and commercial production of her beer is currently handled elsewhere.

The beer

On the nose there is a very subtle hint of strawberry although I suspect you might struggle to pick this if you weren’t already aware of strawberry’s presence in the beer.

On the palate you do get an initial hint of strawberry flavour but it is balanced out very quickly by hoppy and citrussy beer characters. The beer does not come across as immediately sweet although the perception of sweetness does build over time.

I also made Andy try the beer. Because he is a lager drinker, it fell pretty flat with him. He didn’t like the hint of fruit, found the beer too sweet and complained that it was an ale.

So this is not a beer for die-hard lager drinkers, by any stretch of the imagination!

On the other hand, I was really pleasantly surprised by this and found it very drinkable. I liked the bitterness and the hops and I did not find it overly fruity. The way the sweetness builds up makes it very easy to drink one but that is where I personally would stop. I did spend over eight years in the UK drinking real ale, so it is not surprising that I found this quite likeable. Many of those beers are very fruity and can even have a sense of sweetness to them, so while Zeven Lemon is far fizzier than any real ale, it is not too dissimilar in flavour.

Zeven Lemon is just 4% abv and, in what is either good fortune or an excellent marketing move, it comes in 330mL bottles and so one bottle is … one standard drink. That kind of thing makes me happy – it also makes life a lot easier for anyone watching their alcohol intake.

If you are up for a little experimentation with your beer, and you don’t mind ales, then this is worth a go.

Source: sample. Available nationally through Dan Murphy’s (online only). Other stockists listed on the Zeven Lemon website.
Crown cap.
4% abv.

Redbank Fiano 2014


I am a huge fan of Fiano, so it comes as a surprise to me that I am yet to write about a wine made from this grape. The bulk of my exposure has been Adelaide Hills, so that’s the style I’m used to and, dare I say it, expect.

For those not in the know, Fiano is a grape which originates in Italy (you could never have guessed, right?). In Campania in southern Italy, to be precise. In modern Italy it is not massively widely planted but it is responsible for the DOCG Fiano di Avellino and you may also find it in a few DOC wines. It’s also planted in Sicily (is there anything that isn’t?!). Hopefully you’re seeing the part of the picture that means it’s suited to Australia … the climate.

I’ve found that, as a rule, Fiano is a rich, textural wine – great mouth feel and strongly flavoured. If I were going to align it with a wine that’s more broadly recognisable, I guess I’d start hedging towards Chardonnay mainly for the weight and feel aspect. But to be honest I can’t really think of an easy analogy.

This wine hails from Victoria and at first I was a little taken aback because it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting but it definitely grew on me and, perhaps more importantly, it’s a tidy wine. Personally, I’m quite keen to find the time to line this up against one of my Adelaide Hills favourites and taste them blind. No doubt I won’t be able to pick the geographic difference!

The wine

In the glass, the wine was pale gold. The nose wasn’t particularly pronounced but showed fresh pear, citrus and a hint of cut grass and even tropical fruit.

In the mouth, there’s good acidity and that lovely rich mouthfeel I was expecting. The flavours are quite rich too and the wine shows pear, spice and some aniseed and even aniseed sweets and good length.

With an RRP just over $20 this is a wine that, while it wouldn’t be my first Fiano pick (and let’s face it, I am a South Australian … ) it would definitely be a wine to which I’d be happy to return. Redbank is distributed by Negociants so it should be widely available.

Sample. RRP $21.95.
13% abv.

Greenock Creek Seven Acre Shiraz 2012


Greenock Creek is, for South Australians at least, a very well known Barossa winery. Greenock is one of the small Barossa towns/villages and the eponymous winery is a small, family run and estate driven outfit that has built a formidable reputation. The website makes the point, almost emphatically, that only the winery’s own grapes are used, so wine stocks are completely in the hands of the weather gods.

This wine was from a WSET Level 1 class. This is an introductory class which showcases a small selection of wines, including a premium Shiraz. Without fail, I choose something local for this wine because it is always enjoyable to show local wine lovers an excellent example of a style with which they are familiar.

I hadn’t actually tried this wine before – I have enjoyed (very much so) a back vintage of the Alices Shiraz (a couple of price points down) so I was more than happy to take a punt.

Everyone’s eyes lit up when this was poured and everyone in the class enjoyed it. Without a doubt, this is a wine that will not be harmed by some time in the cellar. At a retail price of around $55 a bottle, I suspect that few of us will be splashing out on a case but if you’re in the position to drink now, then you can do so because it is delicious.

The wine

In the glass, intense and inky, almost still purple in colour – looking young.

The nose was quite pronounced, showing plenty of plum and licorice, plum jam, sweet spice and even a tiny touch of sweet spice.

On the palate, the plum and licorice are there and the spice is more apparent. There was a hint of black fruit sweets. The tannins were quite soft but offered plenty of structural support. The wine was rounded out by good acidity and length.

What really stood out (in a good way) with this wine is that even though it’s a big 15.5% abv this, even at just 3 years old, is beautifully integrated. It might show up a touch on the finish but it’s impressively unobtrusive.

Purchased from the Ed Cellars, $55.
15.5% abv.

Deviation Road Pinot Noir 2012


I’ve written before about Deviation Road and how I’m a huge fan of their wines so I’m not going to repeat all of that.

I may have also written about how much I enjoy Pinot Noir. That’s not saying much – I enjoy most good wines and find that if you match mood, food and wine you can’t really go wrong. However, Andy is much less of a wine enthusiast than me, and Pinot Noir is one of the grape varieties where our taste in wine does actually collide (the other biggie in terms of style is Beaujolais). I never have to ask Andy twice if he wants a glass of Pinot.

As with so many wines, Pinot really reflects where and how it’s been grown and made. New World Pinots are typically what I would describe as brighter, more fruit driven wines. Maybe a little more approachable and generally a little less funky than their Burgundian counterparts. Sometimes, especially in cheaper wines, this can leave them seeming a little vacuous, but in smart wines you end up with something very pretty and very drinkable.

As I’ve come to expect with the Deviation Road wines, the Pinot over delivers. We both enjoyed every mouthful and have spent some serious time considering in investing in a case (well, Andy spent 15 seconds and said to buy a case, I’ve been prevaricating about letting the moths out of the wallet).

The wine

In the glass, pale and quite garnet in colour.

The nose is mostly about fresh red fruit – strawberries and raspberries. But there is also some savoury complexity to flesh that out – strawberry leaf, a hint of black olive and even some peppery spice.

Those red berries carry through to the palate, but there’s also a snap of tart redcurrant which feels almost crisp. The tannins are soft and silky and there’s good, finely balanced acidity. There are subtle savoury notes here too but these are more meaty than on the nose. It’s a beautiful wine with excellent length so you get to enjoy it just that little bit more.

If you like smart Pinots, this is definitely a wine you should try.

Sample. Available from the Deviation Road cellar door (Longwood, South Australia) for $45.
13.5% abv.

Quinta do Ameal Branco Seco Vinho Verde 2009


Over the Easter break we were headed to a large hardware shop which has a Dan Murphy’s nearby. Andy asked me if I wanted anything. I ummed and aahed and decided to stick my nose in for a look.

Generally, I loathe (and no, that’s not too strong a word for it) browsing in a Dan Murphy’s. I find it depressing and demoralising. Our local Dan’s used to have the wines organised alphabetically by producer (I kid you not) and while that has changed I still find the layout confusing. To one side of the store you have ‘Fine Wine’ and on the other … the ‘not fine’ (I guess). There seems to be no real logic to what constitutes fine or not (it doesn’t appear to be price) and while there is a lot of wine in store, I always find the selection rather limiting. It seems to be a repetition of the same old same old. Rows and rows of Shiraz or Sav Blanc but very little in the way of quirky wines or grape varieties. I just checked and at present, our local store does not stock one single bottle of Fiano.

I’m also not a fan of the lack of service. With wine, I can never make a decision so I like wine shops where I can go in, have a chat, perhaps talk about wines I’ve liked in the past and then be introduced to something new. This doesn’t mean I only ever want to drink small batch boutique production wine, which I realise isn’t Dan’s thing, but I want someone in the store to have knowledge of the stock and actually sell me something.

Anyway, I headed in to Dan’s with all these really negative thoughts whirling around my head and then … a large table set up near the entrance caught my eye. I’m not lying when I say it caught my eye because it was loaded with Burgundy and I could see the bottles bore the orange and white markdown labels. It turns out it wasn’t just Burgs and I managed to snaffle an interesting selection of wines, including this Vinho Verde from Portugal.

I’m very excited to write about this. This is not a wine you see kicking around in every bottle shop or on every wine list. In general, I think that Portuguese still wines are massively underrated (and, if you live in somewhere like the UK, they used to be massively under priced!) and, as a bonus, they’re often made from grape varieties that you don’t find on every street corner.

Vinho Verde is a Portuguese DOC located in the north west corner of Portugal and its name is Portuguese for ‘green wine’ as it is generally sold (and consumed) young. A Vinho Verde may be made from a range of white grape varieties, but this Quinta do Ameal is made from Loureiro. There are only around 6000ha of Loureiro planted in Portugal, pretty much all of those in Vinho Verde.

Now, keen readers will have noticed that I mentioned that Vinho Verde typically is drunk young – and in my book a 2009 doesn’t count as ‘young’ in 2015. However, I still came to it with an open mind and I was really very pleasantly surprised.

The wine

In the glass it was really heading towards a slightly more gold colour, so it was definitely starting to show some age. Nothing that alarmed me though.

The nose was reasonably pronounced, and had some slightly floral characteristics which are, apparently, typical of a young Loureiro. It also showed pear, and raw cashew nuts.

The wine had good acidity (these wines are typified by high acidity) and while I didn’t get any floral notes on the palate I did get pear, pineapple and grapefruit and the wine finished with a slightly more savoury, nutty note. There were also some herbal and aniseed characters there too. The length was not bad at all.

For a wine which I was expecting to be noticeably past its best I was really pleased with this. It went beautifully with our spicy Singapore-noodle style prawn dinner, and drank well on its own.

It didn’t look quite as impressive on the second day and was definitely showing its age a bit more but it was still more than fine to drink.

From the mark down table I paid $18 for this wine – full tote odds at Dan’s for a more current release (maybe 2011 if you’re lucky) are set at $30 and the importer (The Spanish Acquisition) has the 2013 for $32 a bottle.

I actually thought this was pretty good value for money, and I enjoyed the wine, but I wouldn’t be paying around the $30 mark for a back vintage. I’d really like to see this wine in its prime so if you’re interested in trying it – I’d make the effort to seek out the 2013.

Quinta do Ameal is a very well regarded producer of Vinho Verde so definitely one to keep an eye out for.

Purchased from Dan Murphy’s, marked down to $18.
11% abv.

Brown Brothers Patricia Cabernet Sauvignon 2004


At the moment, I’m in the middle of teaching a WSET Level 2 course. Although it’s three very long Saturdays it’s also a lot of fun. One of the best bits of running the course is choosing the wines beforehand. The WSET issues guidelines about the wines we should show, so I don’t have carte blanche, but the suggestions are broad enough to allow lots of diversity for me.

When wines are working well, I will use them repeatedly (hello, Georges duBoeuf Beaujolais Villages!) but sometimes a wine doesn’t show well or, for some of the more premium wines in particular, I struggle with availability.

One wine that changes almost every course is the premium New World Cabernet Sauvignon. Naturally I ALWAYS show an Australian wine and I always try to choose a wine with a bit of age on it. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to have a few bottles of 1996 and 1997 Wynns John Riddoch in my cellar. Using them in a course is a great way to actually open them (rather than sitting around waiting for the perfect moment) and hopefully it is also a treat for the students. This no doubt says something about South Australian palates … but these wines are always amongst the best received in the whole course.

Anyway, with no gems left in the cellar, I had to buy. I chose the Brown Brothers 2004 Patricia on a bit of a whim. It had some age and I have a lot of respect for the wines that Brown Brothers produces across their range. Don’t take this as meaning I unilaterally love everything that the company produces, but overall they are amongst my ‘safe’ picks.

The Patricia wines are Brown Brothers’ flagship wines and are named after the family’s matriarch, Patricia Brown, who died in 2004. Brown Brothers doesn’t release these wines every vintage and the wines get the best treatment. So you expect something good.

And my goodness me – this wine totally over delivers on that promise. It might be almost 11 years old (the back label says its cellaring potential is 6-10 years) but it is an unbelievably vibrant and youthful wine. In a word – it is DELICIOUS. And absolutely worth every penny of its $59 price tag. I only wish I were wealthy enough to drink this kind of wine on a very regular basis.

It was also extremely handy that the current class has someone from a (well known) winery who had tasted that winery’s back vintage Cabernet Sauvignons the day before. Apparently the Patricia put a lot of those wines firmly in the shade so I am not alone in my admiration for this wine.

The wine

In the glass, it is ruby and very deeply & intensely coloured. Even at 10+ years, it is looking young.

The nose is pronounced and the fresh fruit is starting to drop off, being replaced with a very attractive cedar, tobacco and worn leather character, there is also some warm spice such as clove or nutmeg.

The palate is positively bursting with fresh fruit, there is good acidity and the tannins are very firm but pleasantly chalky, rather than mouth strippingly drying, fresh blackcurrant, blackcurrant jubes, some vanilla, touch of baked black fruit, and some milk chocolate.

I wrote this tasting note on the second day and it was still showing such vibrant, fresh fruit – an absolutely beautiful wine.

Purchased from the Ed Cellars, $59.
13.5% abv.

Deviation Road 2014 Pinot Gris


I am a little fussy about my Pinot Gris. Those made in the more neutral Italian style (and so generally labelled Pinot Grigio) I find lacking in interest. This may be the fault of English pubs, who for so long served dull, dull, and cheap Pinot Grigio as the standard house offering. But those made in the more textural (wine wanker word, I know!), savoury and intense Alsace style (labelled Pinot Gris) I do find myself getting along with. The Adelaide Hills in particular appears to be a happy hunting ground for this style of Pinot Gris. My experience thus far leads me to believe that these are wines that generally benefit drinking young and that the wineries that are getting ‘it’ right are getting ‘it’ right consistently.

Deviation Road is one such winery. I am a huge fan of Kate and Hamish Laurie’s Longwood outfit (although, despite living about half an hour down the road, I’ve never got myself to the cellar door). I’ve been lucky enough to sample their new releases a couple of years in a row, and around the middle of last year I interviewed Kate for an essay. Kate is probably the easiest interviewee I’ve dealt with ever.

So I have a massive soft spot for these wines. I was impressed by the 2013 Pinot Gris so I was keen to have a look at the 2014. In addition, I’d very recently tasted the Pinot Gris which had picked up several gongs at the Royal Adelaide Wine Show. I’d been rather underwhelmed by that wine but I was interested to see how the Deviation Road equivalent (at almost twice the price) would stack up.

In brief, the Deviation Road more than stacks up. I would much rather have, enjoy and savour one bottle of the Deviation Road Pinot Gris than the equivalent two bottles of the medal winner. This just proves to me (yet again) that while wine shows have their place, punters need to be aware that not every wine is entered and the show results are best viewed as a rough guide, rather than a definitive state of the nation.

The wine

The nose shows quite pronounced pear and pear drop characters, with some green apple and slight melon.

The palate shows off the pear – ripe, but not overripe and none of the potentially confected pear drop that I saw on the nose. Green apple, citrus and an all important touch of warm spice all make an appearance. There is good acidity, coupled with excellent mouth feel and texture as well as good length.

I think that this wine more than demonstrates that it’s possible to buy wine that is both approachable and classy. With a recommended retail price of $28 it may not fall into your every day drinking price bracket but it is definitely worth every penny.

Sample, RRP $28. Deviation Road is distributed by Negociants so it shouldn’t be too hard to track down and you can buy the 2013 through the Deviation Road website.
12.5% abv.

Whistling Duck 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon


Like I’m sure almost everyone reading this, the run up to Christmas and beyond is hectic. I’d like to offer up several reasons (read, birthdays) why our December is more hectic than most … but I know that everyone finds themselves in that predicament. Even work Christmas parties appear to be getting earlier and earlier (Andy missed his while we were away – and that was early November).

With more parties, BBQs and Christmas drinks than you can throw a shoe at, my December action plan always ensures that I get in a collection of reasonably priced wine that I can have ready to go when I need to head somewhere. Early in the month, I had a stash of the ever reliable Thorn-Clarke Riesling but as December marched on, stocks were running low.

Of course, I’m signed up to plenty of wine related email lists who all wanted to sell me something but the one that caught my eye (arrived on the right day) was one from Virgin Wines. I’d used Virgin Wines for about a year or so when I’d lived in the UK and had had no troubles so, given the generous nature of the offer (a case of wine and two bottles of Prosecco for $100, delivery inclusive) I had to give it a go.

A lot of the bottles from the mixed case have been distributed far and wide and remain untasted by me. Of the wines I have tried they have been quite hit and miss. There was a Chardonnay in the case which was actually quite OK and the red I am currently drinking is a very approachable, even if not madly interesting, wine. And given that I’ve paid under $10 a bottle for them, I am happy with the return on my investment.

Unfortunately, this Sauvignon Blanc Semillon didn’t repay me in quite the same manner. Someone went crazy with the ‘fruitiness’. My gut feeling is that this is the kind of wine that could well be a hit with younger drinkers who are taking their first steps with wine.

I was also underwhelmed that by purchasing this case I rather unwittingly signed myself up to a regular 3-monthly delivery of wines. I unsubscribed from that quick smart!

The wine

Very pale in the glass.

Nose quite pronounced and definitely showing off the Sauvignon Blanc. Gooseberry, lychee with a strong grassy, and even dried grass, back note.

Palate – very “fruity” and rather smacking of some sugar – again the Sauvignon Blanc is at the fore but with melon and passionfruit. Not bad acidity but not really enough to back up the ‘fruitiness’. It is a little short and one dimensional although it does have a reasonably satisfying savoury herbal twist to it.

Best served cold and for drinking, rather than intellectualising.

The RRP on the Virgin Wines site is $17 a bottle, which is, in my opinion, too much. However, I bought it in a case where it worked out at under $10 a bottle … and at that price point, if you like this type of wine, it is probably OK.

Virgin Wines.
12.0% abv