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Highlights From a Visit Down Under

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: May 3, 2007 3:36pm ET

Now that I'm back from Australia, I've compiled the following small but quirky list of highs and lows:

Most Pleasant Surprise: Would you believe a serious Australian Merlot? Clarendon Hills Brookman Vineyard 2005, a supple, perfumy, languid mouthful of dark chocolate–infused currant and plum flavors hints at black tea on the very long and amazingly generous finish. A dead ringer for a fine Pomerol. Coming out later this year, probably at around $100.

Most Pleasant Surprise (Barrel Tasting Division): Pinot Noir from Brian Croser's new Foggy Hill vineyard way down on the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide. This 10-acre vineyard sits atop a craggy hillside, above the fog line most days. It looks like Sonoma Coast, and the wines taste like they come from it. The first wines, from 2007, are destined for the Tapanappa label Croser owns with Jean-Michel Cazes of Bordeaux and Bollinger of Champagne. If they make it into the bottle with the flavor profile, texture and length they showed in the barrel, they could be the best Pinots in Australia.

Another Pleasant Surprise: Bindi V sparkling wine, a non-vintage blend that sells for $40 in Australia and competes impressively with the best domaine-bottle Champagnes. It tastes like a vivid Chardonnay with bubbles, showing real depth and breadth. The tiny quantities are not sold in the U.S., but if this winery can do, it why can't others?

Worst Potential Marketing Error: Rosemount is using the same screw-capped, diamond-shaped bottle on its high-profile Balmoral Syrah and GSM that it uses for its popular Diamond Label wines, which sell for under $12 in the U.S. The bottle is a great idea for the value-oriented series, but Balmoral and GSM used to stand apart in an eye-catching slope-shouldered bottle. But it's not available with screw cap, so now Balmoral just looks like another diamond-label wine.

Best New Wine Name: Gigglepot 2006, the new Cabernet Sauvignon from Mollydooker. Named after winemakers Sparky and Sarah Marquis' daughter, Holly, the wine occupies a middle tier of Mollydooker's wines, one notch up from the lower-priced Two Left Feet (a Cabernet-Merlot-Shiraz blend) and The Maitre d' (a Cabernet).

Most, Um, Striking Wine Label: Playmates, a Grenache made by Rolf Binder in Barossa (soon to be sent to the U.S.), featuring the silhouette of a long-haired, well-proportioned woman. No naughty bits show, but it's sexy. So far no objections from Playboy magazine, or the TTB.

Tempranillo, Anyone? A quiet buzz has started for Tempranillo as a red wine alternative to the Shiraz and Cabernet that dominate the Australian landscape. Two of the best I tried are from Yalumba in the Barossa and Red Edge in Heathcote. The Yalumba 2005 is pure and refreshing, with a peppery edge to the ripe berry flavors. Red Edge Tempranillo-Monastrell 2005 has savory tannins around a cardamom-scented core of dark plum flavor, lingering well. (Monastrell is the Spanish term for Mourvèdre.)

Other New Varietals: From barrel, I tasted 2007 Nebbiolo at Two Hands that was strongly reminiscent of a nice Nebbiolo d'Alba. Fermenting at Henschke were batches of Mencía (a Spanish grape) that sang of plums and felt soft and round and Tempranillo that reminded me of tamarillo fruits.

Hot New Wine Alert: Henschke, which makes Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone bottlings from its own Shiraz vineyards in Eden Valley, has a new high-end Shiraz made from Barossa Valley fruit. The vineyards are all on the northeast portion of the valley, which the Henschkes call Tapa Pass. It's broad, velvety and seductive, very Barossa with its effusive dark fruit and mouthfilling texture. It reminds me of Penfolds RWT. The 2005 is out later this year. The price in Australia is under $30.

Traffic Observation: The freeway to and from McLaren Vale from Adelaide is one-way. Seriously. Traffic goes toward Adelaide in the morning, toward McLaren Vale in the afternoon, except on weekends when it's reversed. It saves about 15 to 20 minutes if you time it right. But a one-way freeway? Who thought of that?

Traffic Observation 2: Trams crisscross downtown Melbourne, so the traffic honchos invented the "hook turn." To turn right across the tracks, which run down the middle of the road, you pull up on the far left side of the intersection, wait for the light to turn red, and make the wide turn. It works.

Traffic Observation 3: The spookiest thing about motoring on the left side of the road, for this American driver, comes when I make a right turn (the mirror image of a left turn in the U.S.). I always look for a car coming up from behind on my right, even though the traffic in that lane is right in front of me.

My Proudest Traffic Moment on This Visit: Having just picked up my first rental car at the Adelaide airport, I parallel parked in front of my hotel. In one go. Not bad for a Yank who hasn't piloted a right-hand drive car for two years.

Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  May 3, 2007 8:26pm ET
Thanks for the heads up Harvey! It's great to hear there may be more varietals doing well down under. Makes the world market that much more bearable or, at the very least, diverse.
Andrew Preston
Sydney NSW Australia —  May 3, 2007 9:45pm ET
It's great to hear an outsider's comments on the Australian wine industry and that someone is noting that the industry is more than big shiraz. Thankyou Harvey for a balanced review.
Ashley Potter
LA, —  May 4, 2007 6:06am ET
The traffic situation makes my head hurt just thinking about it! Are you going to have a report on Torbreck, by chance?-Brian
Tom Chen
Irvine, CA —  May 4, 2007 3:10pm ET
Harvey,Did you get a chance to taste Mollydooker's Velvet Glove? Thanks.Tom
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  May 4, 2007 3:26pm ET
I will be doing separate blogs in the next few weeks on extensive tastings I did at several wineries in Australia. These will include Mollydooker (yes, I did taste the Velvet Glove), Clarendon Hills, BVE (E&E Black Pepper), Elderton (Command Shiraz), Rosemount (Balmoral) and Torbreck. There just wasn't enough time to write them up while I was there..
Tom Chen
Irvine, CA —  May 4, 2007 5:00pm ET
Thanks Harvey. I look forward to your impressions on the Velvet Glove, as well as the rest of the Aussies.Tom
Valentin Gasser
Zurich, Switzerland —  May 5, 2007 2:31pm ET
Hi Harvey, I have been reading your posts for a long time. Nice to hear that you mastered the Australian traffic *mmmmffffff... supressed laughter in the background*
Len Stevens Ii
Louisville —  May 5, 2007 5:04pm ET
Thanks for all your comments...I was told that you were visiting Bindi Wine Growers and seeing the note you had on the Sparkling, I assume that's true. I was curious what your thoughts were of the Pinots and Chardonnays. I've recently had the chance to try the Lost Highway Pinot sourced from Bindi fruit and was blown away and will soon be receiving the above mentioned wines. Thanks in advance for your time...
John Murphy
Canada —  May 5, 2007 5:59pm ET
Hi Harvey, long time reader, first time poster. Have you had a chance to taste the 2006 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling? Somehow, a case managed to find it's way to Vancouver and now it's in my hands. 2005 was great but I only managed to get one bottle. Any thoughts on the current vintage? Thanks.
Pauline Decloedt
canada —  May 7, 2007 11:49am ET
Hello John Murphy, Vancouver, CanadaCan you tell me where I may locate Grosset Polish Hill Riesling in Vancouver. Thanks You.
John Murphy
Canada —  May 8, 2007 1:08pm ET
Hi Pauline, I came across the Grosset Riesling at the main BC Liquor Store at 39th and Cambie in Vancouver. Hopefully they still have stock remaining!!
Pauline Decloedt
canada —  May 9, 2007 1:07am ET
Thank you John for this information on Grosset Riesling and I thank the Wine Spectator for their fantastic service.Pauline
Jordan Metz Vanlare
New York, NY —  July 8, 2007 12:45pm ET
Hi Harvey, Thanks for posts. Any thoughts on places to stay north of Adelaide or is Adelaide still the best home base for a visit to Barossa and Clare Valleys?
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  July 8, 2007 1:40pm ET
Jordan, if you're concentrating on Barossa and Clare, definitely consider staying in the Barossa. For something really snazzy, consider Peppers The Louise in Maranenga, near Seppeltsfield. It's a comfortable, beautifully re-done resort with spacious quiet rooms, and it has an ambitious restaurant. Owned by an American couple, it's set in the same neighborhood as Torbreck, Two Hands and Peter Lehmann's Stonewell vineyard. Convenient for exploring Barossa, it's about an hour's drive from Clare (which is almost 2 hours from Adelaide). Clare has some lovely bed and breakfasts, if you want to overnight there.

Adelaide is a good place to stay for visiting Adelaide Hills or McLaren Vale, or if you're dividing your time among the whole region's vineyards and you don't want to keep picking up and moving.

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