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Que Pasa in the Barossa
by Darryl Roberts
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.2
Australia. I gotta love a country where I can drink, drive on the wrong side of the road and get paid for it. And I'm not even Jason Priestley! Yeah, whatever.

Dual purpose for the trip: do a couple press/trade seminars with our sister rag, Wine X Australia/NZ - which is on fire down there, thank you very much - explaining why the hell I started this fuckin' thing to begin with, then head for the Barossa Valley for a little T & A (taste and adventure).

The trip started off just dandy. Los Angeles was fogged in, of course, so I missed my flight to Melbourne (I had to fly through LA from San Fran). Naturally, the airline got me to LA, just couldn't get me the hell out. (Having lived in Southern Cal, I know this happens a lot!) One flight to Melbourne from LA daily - 10 pm. Not a happy camper. Twenty-four hours in the Valley of the Dolls. What to do?

Luckily, big Bob Blumer (a.k.a. The Surreal Gourmet) was in town entertaining at his Hollywood chateau, so I spent the day with him. Drawback: Bob was in gardening mode, so I watched him pull weeds and dump dirt for eight hours. Put a whole new spin on "surreal entertaining."

That evening they managed to get me outta LA. Now, I was on a mission: get drunk, pop a sleeping pill and not wake up for 14 hours. Hey, I was traveling business class, baby, free booze and sleeper seats! Besides, you can only watch "The Horse Whisperer" so many times before wanting to strangle the person next to you. This way I stay outta trouble.

The next thing I remember is the breakfast cart coming by. God bless drugs. Legal, mind you. The only problem was my schedule. If I'd made it in the day before I'd have had time to relax and actually write my seminar presentation. Now, I'd be lucky to make it to the venue before it was over. And the worst part? I had airplane hair. (You know, it's amazing what you can do with a comb and leftover Champagne from breakfast.)

I hit the ground running in Melbourne. Made a quick stop by the Hotel Lindrum (I highly recommend this place!) to drop off my bags and then bolted for The Gin Place. Hey, if you're gonna hold a wine conference, do it in a place famous for martinis, right?

Anyway, to make a long story short, did the gig, spent time with our very talented Wine X Australia/NZ staff, had a wonderful dinner at the Lindrum (did I mention I love this place?) and headed to Adelaide the next morning for a drive to the Barossa Valley.

I'd been to the Barossa once before with some other journalists a couple years ago. But it didn't seem quite so... hot last time. Maybe it was the time of year. Or maybe it was just me. Or maybe it was because it was just so hot! Over 100 degrees Fahrenheit every single frickin' day. But after leaving the dull, gray, raining skies of Sonoma it felt pretty good. And it was a dry heat. Uh huh.

The idea was to visit some up-and-coming wineries along with a few of the big boys. I left the itinerary up to the Australian Wine Bureau. Figured they'd know who's hot and who's not. They did.

Briefly, the Barossa Valley, which includes the Eden Valley, is about an hour drive north of Adelaide, somewhat like Sonoma to San Francisco. It's roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) long by 22 miles (35 kilometers) wide, with the majority of wineries located on or just off Highway B19. It's one of the most recognized wine growing regions in Australia and home to three of the four major Australian wine companies. Oops, that's right, now it's home to all, now that Rosemount is part of Southcorp.

Wine wise, the Barossa is known for its shiraz and other Rhone varietals -- grenache and mourvedre. There's some good cab and semillon being made here, too, but looking back on my notes, the Rhone varietals and blends stood out. Grenache from this region intrigues me in that it's much richer and fuller than most of its American counterparts. The shiraz, of course, is world renowned and is probably the reason why some California wineries call their syrah shiraz. After all, why work harder to sell an unknown varietal when you can ride the coattails of people who really know how to market a product. Anyway, the Barossa's a beautiful valley that produces world-class wine. And that's why I went.

Turkey Flat Winery First stop was Turkey Flat Winery for lunch with owner/winemaker Peter Schulz. The finishing touches were being applied to his new winery building, and Peter -- like every proud winery owner -- wanted to take me on a tour. Now for those of you who actually read my reports (and don't just look at the pretty pictures) you know my stance on tours: don't do 'em, won't do 'em. There's nothing in a winery that anyone, anywhere, can show me that I haven't already seen. Trust me. So I, being an ambassador of the very proper U.S. wine writing community, told 'im "No fucking way." Okay, not in those exact words, but... We volleyed back and forth for a set, then compromised on barrel tasting some of the new vintage. I don't take notes when I barrel taste because the wines will change so much after being bottled. Thus, notes are essentially worthless. But don't let that discourage you from buying futures that Robert Parker recommends from barrel samples. I'm sure in all his great wisdom Bob can accurately predict what a wine'll be like in five years. Anyway, the barrel samples were good. I do remember that. Least I think they were...

Anyway, we decided to grab a few bottles and head to lunch. On the way to the restaurant we stopped at Mengler Hill Lookout, a great spot in the Barossa Ranges, to scope the entire Barossa Valley. It's off Menglers Hill Road Scenic Drive and worth a few tics of your time.

The restaurant, Seasons of the Valley Cafe & Gallery , is exactly what the name states: an eatery and art galley in one. Photography, ceramics, crafts and gourmet homewares from local artisans fill the space while the incredible food fills your mouth. Try the sushi and sashimi with dipping sauce, seared tuna with rocket and white bean salad, or the warm squid and Asian coleslaw salad. It's enough to make you wet.

THE TURKEY FLAT WINES:

Turkey Flat 2000 Semillon
Smooth, rich, honeyed citrus and fig fruit with a floral perfume thing goin' on. Some pears, apples and nectarines slackin' in the back.

Turkey Flat 2000 Rose
Whether it was the heat or my longing for a rose that doesn't taste like Kool-Aid, this wine's cherry... and some strawberry and other red fruit stuff. Like George Dubya, it ain't overly complex but does the job.

Turkey Flat 1999 Grenache Noir
1999 in Australia is kinda like 1998 in California: hit or miss, depending, with an emphasis on miss. But this was a hit. Rich, spicy and smoky, like slow dancin' with Penelope Cruz in an underground nightclub.

Turkey Flat 1998 Shiraz
Another deep, rich wine that's, thank God, not over-oaked. Typical blue and red fruits, chunks of chocolate and a splash of coffee to round it out. Still a bit tight, it could use a little time in the bottle, though I'd drink it now with a little air.

Now. Had I known what I was in for next, I'd have brought my video camera.

Dean Kraehenbuhl, fortified winemaker for Seppelt Winery . For those familiar with Animal Planet or the Crocodile Hunter (of TV fame), Dean's the wine industry counterpart. The man has more passion and energy than's permissible by law.

Dean Kraehenbuhl First, we took a quick look around the property (I know, I know, but it's an historical landmark, so...). The grounds are spectacular and make a great stop for wine and a picnic lunch. Then we got down to business. As Dean talked about each port and sherry, he circled it like the Croc Hunter around a venomous snake. I kept waiting for "Crykie. Isn't she a beauty?" but...

(Just so you understand, my knowledge of sherry is about as deep as Dan Quayle, so keep that in mind.)

Seppelt Show Fino Sherry D.P. 117 (7 years old) $18
Aside from being dry and crisp, it reminded me of fresh apples and trail mix. Dean recommended serving this with prusciutto, olives and sardines. Okay.

Seppelt Show Amontillado D.P. 116 (18 years old) $18
Another crisp, dry wine with more prunes, raisins and hazelnuts. Recommended food: gazpacho or pumpkin soup.

Seppelt Show Oloroso D.P. 38 (25 years old) $18
With 2.8 percent residual sugar, its walnutiness and dried fruit flavors will fit perfectly with cheese, particularly stilton, camembert and brie.

As we circled the Ports, trying not to upset them for fear of losing a limb, Dean recommended that Port be served at 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature brings out all the nuances while keeping the high alcohol in check. (Alcohol becomes more pronounced the warmer wine gets. As does Dean.)

Penfolds Club Port (4 years old) $6.50
Yes, that's a four-year-old Port for $6.50... Australian. This is one easy-drinkin' wine. I can't say it's overly complex, but for the price, I'd buy it by the case.

Penfolds Club Reserve Port (8 years old) $12
Another easy quaffer. A bit more complex, with Goobers & Raisinetes as the main attraction, followed by walnuts and more nutty things.

Penfolds Magil Bluestone Tawny (12 years old) $18
Very smooth, soft and feminine, eliciting images of Nicole Kidman sliding into a silk teddy.

Penfolds Grandfather Fine Old Liqueur Tawny (25 years old) $90
Beautiful. Smooth. Rich. Worth every Australian penny, especially since it's two-for-one with $U.S. right now!

Penfolds Great Grandfather Fine Old Liqueur Tawny (50 to 60 years old) $380
So rich, smooth and seductive I almost had an embarrassing moment.

I highly recommend you stop at Seppelt, not only for its wonderful Ports and sherries (they serve table wines, too), but for the history and the grounds. And if Dean's around, see if he'll round up some of his special wines for you.

Charles Melton Winery Well, I was now wired and ready for my next stop: Charles Melton Winery . I stopped here on my last trip through and thought Charlie produced some of the best wines I'd tasted in the Barossa. Not that there was any pressure now, but my expectations were high.

I'm probably one of the biggest sparkling shiraz fans/advocates around. When made well, this answer to the mucky duck blows away any sparkling wine made. And I mean ANY. And Charlie's sparkling shiraz is a killer. Big, rich, smoky and packed with fruit, I'd serve it with a dessert of berries and whipped cream (in the bedroom of course!). That way spilling's mandatory. His 1998 Grenache is tasty, offering nice strawberry and cherry flavors and a warm, pepper-spice finish. What's become a signature wine for Melton is Nine Popes . A Rhone-style blend of grenache, shiraz and mourvedre, the 1998 rocks, with deep, rich fruit, smoke and spice that fits like an Armani smoking jacket. The killer of the group, though, is the 1998 Shiraz . Without getting too caught up in winegeek descriptors, let's just say this wine is like liquid sex without all the mess. Another wine worth mentioning is the 1997 Command Shiraz . At this point it's still tight and chewy, but beneath all the tannin is a concentrated wine that just needs some time to mature. Say five years.

One of my goals on this trip was to gather some young winemakers for a roundtable discussion on wine and the future of the Australian wine industry. I figured I could make a lot of calls and spend hours trying to track a few of them down, or I could just call Southcorp and have them do it. Hell, with 60 winemakers in their house, it'd be like shooting yeast in a fermenting barrel.

So we assembled at Vintners Bar & Grill . Hell, if you're gonna have a serious discussion you need serious food. Joining me was Andrew Marks, 26, winemaker for Penfolds; Oliver Crawford, 26, winemaker for Southcorp Wines; and Andrew Baldwin, 36, also winemaker for Southcorp. Two Andrews and an Oliver: a 66 percent chance that I'd remember who was who.

Darryl: Why don't we get a quick bio on everyone before we start. Andrew?

Andrew Marks: Well, I graduated from Roseworthy College in 1997 and have been with Southcorp Wines since 1998, when I joined the company's graduate program. Since then I've worked vintages at Rouge Homme in Coonawarra, Seppelts here in the Barossa and Great Western in central Victoria. And this is my second vintage with Penfolds in their premium white winery.

Oliver Crawford: I started as an assistant winemaker in the Barossa at a place called Barossa Vintners. I moved to Pennies about two years ago. During university I did vintages in the Hunter Valley and the Barossa, as well as worked on my parents' vineyard, in Orange, whenever possible. This is my eighth vintage with Southcorp.

Andrew Baldwin: I just worked my way up through the ranks like everyone else. Not a terribly exciting story.

Darryl: Okay. Take your word for it. How'd you end up as winemakers?

Andrew Marks: I've always found the idea of not having to wear a suit and tie very appealing. The wonderful thing about winemaking is that it can be as simple or as sophisticated as you like. And this applies to both the lifestyle and the discipline. Your approach to the job is reflected in how you balance this.

Oliver Crawford: My parents had an interest in wine (ironically a cellar full of 389!). Then my father purchased a block of land and planted grapes when I was in year seven (seven years old). At that stage I wasn't interested because of all the hard labor. I really thought about being a winemaker when I was studying for my final year history exam (go figure!). So I decided to apply at Roseworthy and was accepted. But... I deferred a year, packed my bags and went to Europe (visiting more pubs than vineyards!). It was in Europe that I really developed a passion for the vineyards and the lifestyle. So I came back and started studying.

Darryl: What exactly is it that you do?

Andrew Baldwin: General day-to-day duties are tasting, blending, prepping wine for packaging, vineyard assessment, grape intake during harvest...

Andrew Marks: Yeah, it's pretty much the same for all of us. The production, maintenance and packaging of wine. With me it's the range of whites for Penfolds.

Darryl: Give us the glamour, the romance.

Oliver Crawford: Well, we arrive every morning in our Ferraris. Just kidding. Every morning and afternoon we do tasting rounds with the rest of the winemaking team. By tasting we can make decisions on potential blends or different fermentation practices we should apply or the kinds of oak we should/shouldn't use. And then, as managers, we implement those decisions in the cellar by writing out the work orders for the day- and night-shift cellar workers. Near harvest we visit our vineyards two to three times a week to taste fruit and look at the overall vine health. By tasting the fruit we can work out what blocks can go with each other. We also get an idea of the potential quality of the fruit so we know what to expect in the winery. Then, after harvest, we simply see the wine through fermentation, aging and maintaining it until it's bottled and shipped.

Darryl: Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?

Andrew Marks: Lost on a yacht in some Indonesian archipelago with my surfboard and a few good friends.

Oliver Crawford: I'm not sure, as long as I'm happy, it wouldn't matter where.

Darryl: Your boss is gonna read this.

Andrew Marks & Oliver Crawford: Making wine for Southcorp, of course.

Andrew Baldwin: In the same industry, with the same company with more experience and knowledge, of course.

Darryl: Good answer. Where do you see the Australian wine industry in 10 years?

Oliver Crawford: I think, more than likely, Australia will be a key player in the global wine industry.

Darryl: Don't you think it already is?

Oliver Crawford: I think we've developed the Australian style, but now we need to continue to be innovative and open-minded when looking at different styles and winemaking techniques so we continue to evolve and grow.

Andrew Marks: Yeah, I think Australian wines will definitely be at the forefront of exciting and innovative wines and wine styles.

Darryl: Andrew?

Andrew Baldwin: Much bigger and better.

Darryl: I can see the marketing memos: 'Get out there and make us bigger and better. And don't come back until you do!' Hey, whatever works. If you could make changes to the image of wine, what would they be?

Andrew Baldwin: Make it simple and easy for the masses to understand.

Andrew Marks: Yeah, give up the wine wank. Wine needs to be made accessible to everyone.

Oliver Crawford: As a winemaker we see a limited side to "the image of wine." To me wine is about good friends, good food and good fun. That's what I'd like to see the image of wine be, regardless of quality or price. If it tastes good, then enjoy it!

Darryl: On that subject, what do you guys drink when not drinking wine?

Andrew Marks: Farmer's Union Iced Coffee.

Andrew Baldwin: Same.

Darryl: That's it?

Andrew Baldwin: Beer.

Oliver Crawford: Alcoholic: Beer, Pimms and lemonade, gin and tonic, the occasional margarita. Non alcoholic: Seppelts Raspberry Cordial, juice, water, lime cordial.

Darryl: You Andrews might want to hang around Oliver more. Sounds like he's got it going. All right. If you had only one wine to drink for the rest of your life, what would it be? And why?

Andrew Marks: A good pinot. They're moody and always give you something to think about.

Oliver Crawford: Hard question. Hopefully this would never happen because I'd get bored. I guess I'd have to say '97 Tignanello. It's just damn good.

Andrew Baldwin: Grange & Yattarna. Because usually I can't afford it.

Darryl: Both Southcorp wines. Guy's catchin' on. You're familiar with Wine X and what we're trying to do. There's an advantage down here to reaching young adult consumers because the legal drinking age is 18. So you have a three-year head start over us in the States in getting them to try and accept your product. Do you think 18-year-olds are ready for wine?

Andrew Marks: Australia's become far more cosmopolitan over the last decade. There's a greater emphasis on good food and wine. Many young adults either experience wine from an early age around the family dinner table or they're eager to experiment with food and wine at a younger age. A few recent pushes into the younger market have proved reasonably successful, so wine's beginning to lose that old boffin or yuppie image.

Darryl: You might have to translate boffin for us yanks.

Andrew Marks: Old researchers, academics.

Darryl: Right.

Oliver Crawford: Yeah, if they're ready for beer and spirits, then why not wine. Look at the French and Italians, the kids drink wine with their meals.

Darryl: What mark do you want to leave in your profession?

Andrew Baldwin: Known for being a nice person and having views and opinions that make a difference.

Andrew Marks: A few good bottles.

Oliver Crawford: As I said before, wine is about enjoying life and friends. If anything I'd like to leave that imprint on the wine industry.

Darryl: Ditto. Thanks, guys. And you're pickin' up dinner, right?

ANDREW MARKS
Favorite music? All sorts depending on my mood

Favorite band? Soundgarden, Shihad and 28 Days have been the popular choice during vintage. Air has been great for chilling out

Favorite movie? Betty Blue

Favorite beer? Coopers Pale Ale is always a pretty good start

Favorite spirit? TttttttTequila!

OLIVER CRAWFORD
Favorite music? As long as it's not rap or techno I don't care

Favorite band? At the moment DIDO. Long term favorites: U2, Saw Doctors

Favorite movie? Shawshank Redemption

Favorite beer? Stella Artois

Favorite spirit? Laguavilin

OLIVER BALDWIN
Favorite music? Anything loud and heavy

Favorite band? Shihad, 28 Days, Soundgarden

Favorite movie? Caddyshack

Favorite beer? As long as it's cold, any!

Favorite spirit? Rum, Jim Beam and Jack Daniels

I must've made a decent impression with the Southcorp group, 'cause the following day Peter Gago, winemaker extraordinaire for Penfolds, as well as Paul Georgiadis, Southcorp's grower services manager (read: head vineyard manager), treated me to lunch at the Star of Greece Cafe in Port Willunga.

It was an interesting day that I spent with these two in that Southcorp had just bought Rosemount, and word was out that some Southcorp employees were going to lose their positions. So every time Peter or Paul's phone rang there was a moment of nervous prayer. Right. Like they'd get rid of these two. But hey, stranger things have happened.

Peter Gago of Penfolds Anyway, the Star of Greece isn't exactly in the Barossa. It's more like overlooking the ocean on the other side of Adelaide. The point was to get outta the heat and near water. Good idea! And this is a fantastic spot, not that far out of the way if you're spending time in Adelaide.

Star of Greece owner John Garcia treated us to some fresh calamari, Garfish (local fave) and Red Snapper. With my extreme allergies to dairy and eggs John prepared my Garfish with McLaren Vale olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, fresh basil and tomato petals. I was in heaven. If you stop by, make sure to ask the kitchen to de-bone the Garfish for you. It can get pretty messy.

Of course Peter had an ulterior motive for lunch: taste his wines. Well, if I must.

Penfolds 2000 Reserve Riesling - Eden Valley $20
Just how I like 'em: crisp, dry, floral and perfect with food. In fact, it went very nicely with the lightly breaded calamari.

Penfolds 1999 Cellar Reserve Pinot Noir $35 (AUS)
Now, it's been a long and difficult search for an Australia pinot that I actually like. Not that there aren't some good pinots here, but I haven't come across one that I'd go out of my way to highly recommend. Until now. This one's yummy. Like Sharon Leal (Marilyn on Boston Public), it's spicy, hot, tight and packed with talent. And I think you know what I mean by "talent."

Penfolds 2000 Cellar Reserve Sangiovese $28 (AUS)
I knew the Aussies were foolin' around with Italian varietals, but I didn't know how seriously. This wine is awesome. Very true to the varietal (not made like most sangioveses in the States, which are made - and taste - like cabernet) and just a real pleasure to drink. Even though red and robust, it paired well with my fish. Says a lot about the wine.

Penfolds 1998 Old Vine Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre $17
This wine is the exact experience I was having at lunch. It's fresh, warm, vibrant and lingers long on the palate.

Penfolds 1998 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz $24
Okay, now for the big boys. This wine is simply decadent. Like S&M all night long - the more you get, the more you want. (I, of course, know nothing about this. I've heard from a couple of our tasting panel members.)

Penfolds 1997 St. Henri Shiraz $35
Another rich, smooth wine with a smoky, earthy tone that'd make Vince Gill jealous. Lots of ripe black and blue fruit (seeing a theme here?) and a wonderful long, lingering, kinda warm finish.

Penfolds 1998 Magill Estate Shiraz $45
I know it's redundant, but more S&M fruit and a slightly rounder finish than the St. Henri.

Penfolds 1998 RWT Shiraz $60
Oh. My. God. I almost recreated that famous scene in When Harry Met Sally, but Peter stopped me in time.

Penfolds 1996 Grange $175
A tasting of Peter's wines wouldn't be complete without Grange. (Sure, I didn't pay for it.) It's tough to evaluate this wine because it's so young, but I think it's very seductive and well integrated at this point. It's rich, full on the palate and very concentrated, with slightly chewy/chalky tannins on the finish. Give this puppy a few years and it'll be a killer.

(Note: the Reserve Pinot Noir and Reserve Sangiovese are cellar door (tasting room) only products. But maybe they'll be incentive enough for you to get your ass down there to try 'em for yourself.)

Well, that's the down and dirty of it. I could wax poetic about the valley, but it wouldn't make the experience or the wines any better. (That's why we have pictures.) So savvy my info and get down there to check out the Barossa for yourself. If you need extra info, contact the Barossa Wine & Tourism Association .

Post note: On my stay in Sydney for the Wine X press/trade seminar, I decided to stop by and see Nikki again (see Special Report, Vol. 3.4). Having recently been dumped by my squeeze, I figured what the hell. No luck. Seems Nikki hooked up with a surfer dude about a month ago and is now beach bumming on Mornington Peninsula. Oh well. Guess we'll just have to do a story on that. (See the premier issue of Wine X Australia/NZ for Surfing the Mornington Peninsula.)


WHAT TO DO?

When seeking info on hot spots for dinin' and dancin', you always ask the locals. So that's what I did over dinner with Rob and Anne Gibson of Gibson's BarossaVale Wines . Rob makes a killer shiraz. Not much reaches the States, so if you see a bottle, snatch it. Truthfully, Rob's not exactly in our demo, but his kids and employees are. So here's what Kelly, Kim, Dave and Brett recommend for extracurricular entertainment:

Nightlife: The Tununda Hotel on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights for dancing, drinking and socializing. The Vine Inn for live music.

Cycling/Mountain Biking/Back Packing: The Barossa Ranges, on the eastern side of the valley, offer some good trails - the Kaiser Stuhl, the Heysen Trail and the Mawson Cycling Trail. You can actually bike all the way into Adelaide if you have it in you.

Boating/Canoeing/Kayaking: Murray River be da place. It's a lazy river, perfect for all your water needs.

Restaurants: 1918 Bistro and Grill in Tanunda; Shangri-La Thai and Angus Park Hotel in Nuriootpa; Vintners Bar & Grill and Rendezvous House in Angaston; Landhuas in Bethany.

Chasing the little white ball: Barossa Valley Golf Club Nuriootpa; Tanunda Golf Club in Tanunda.

GETTIN' HIGH

Peter Gago and company treated me to a helicopter tour of the Barossa to give me the lay of the land (so to speak). It's an incredible way to see the valley and its unique surroundings. Barossa Helicopters is the local company, offering tour packages ranging from six minutes to an hour. It's a little pricey, but for you and three friends it's no more than a nice dinner with a couple bottles of wine. www.kiespl.mtx.net.

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