On the basis of the early vintages, I have been underwhelmed by Colonial Estate, the Barossa Valley winery that came on the scene a couple of years ago with big prices. Some of the wines have been awful. Some have been very good. A few even got into the "Outstanding" category, but at $100 a bottle and more, I had a hard time figuring out what this new enterprise was all about.
So when Jonathan Maltus offered to show me what the winery has been up to recently, I figured, why not? Let's see if the unreleased wines show promise, or are more of the same. Maltus, the British entrepeneur who started Colonial Estate in Australia after getting big bucks for the wines he makes at several St.-Emilion properties in the "garagiste" mold, laid out the current range, mostly from the 2005 and 2006 vintages.
Tasted non-blind, the wines did show improvement. I tasted none of the earthy, gamy flavors that knocked some of the 2002 and 2003 vintages out of the running for me, and the Porty, overripe flavors in other wines seemed to have been tamed. I will taste the wines blind in my office in San Francisco when they come into the market later this year. But the signs are encouraging.
Maltus is a genial soul. Over a lunch of grilled grass-fed steaks and a couple of his St.-Emilions here in Aspen, he talked about how he gravitated toward Australia to make wine. "I considered California, but the competition is pretty severe there and the buy-in is high," he said. "South Africa tempted me, because I am from Africa (born in Kenya), but it doesn't really have the infrastructure. New Zealand doesn't make my kind of wine. So I homed in on Australia."
He bought vineyards in Barossa, imported winemaking equipment from France, and started making wines using French techniques, with his winemaking staff from St.-Emilion, and Bordeaux-based consultant Gilles Pauquet.
Early on, I think I detected a certain attitude, something along the lines of "I've done it in France, now I'll show these Aussies how it's done." Maltus shakes that off, but he has since hired some Australian winemakers (who also must work at the châteaux in Bordeaux). Whether it's these Aussies or simply the experience afforded by a few more vintages, the upcoming wines look considerably better overall than the first few.
I think the problem initially was that the French-oriented winemakers just went ga-ga over the ripe flavors Barossa can produce, and let the earlier vintages get out of hand. Now they're learning how to rein in the excesses.
Several single-vineyard wines (called Mungo Park, John Speke and Alexander Laing) are coming later this year that I have not tasted before in the U.S. Most involve various permutations of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre. They seemed more in the modern style of Barossa reds, ripe but supple and showing enough restraint to qualify as balanced. After tasting them with Maltus, I will be very interested in how they show blind with their peers.
The wines that have done well with me in some vintages and bombed in others, Exile (a single vineyard blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre) and Emigré (a multi-vineyard blend of those grapes plus Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane and Muscadelle) show more restraint in the 2005 bottlings I tried with Maltus.
It's an exciting notion to apply Bordeaux garagiste sensibilities to Barossa reds. I get the sense that Colonial Estate is finally zoning in on the right profile.
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — August 23, 2007 11:32pm ET
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