In between tasting wines, some new, some old, most of them pretty darn good, I picked up these bits and pieces of interest to those of us who follow Australian wine.
Brian Croser Goes for Pinot: Brian Croser has a 400-head sheep farm near Tunkalilla, way down the Fleurieu Peninsula on the ocean (below McLaren Vale) where he has planted a few acres of Pinot Noir because it reminds him of the Sonoma Coast. Croser sold Petaluma, the winery he and his wife, Ann, started, to Lion-Nathan a few years ago and now has Tapanappa in partnership with Jean-Michel Cazes and Bollinger.
He has a tidy stack of barrels now filled with the first vintage, 2007, which just finished fermenting. Tasted from barrel, the wines actually do remind me of Sonoma Coast wines, with their pure, ripe fruit character and minerality. I think he's onto something. Most Australian Pinot Noir is pretty insipid stuff, except for a few pockets in Victoria. This vineyard actually has room to grow, if the finished wine is as good as anticipated.
Croser has also replanted the top section of Tiers, the home vineyard at Petaluma winery in the Adelaide Hills, to Dijon clones of Chardonnay. Ann still owns the vineyard, but half the grapes are sold by contract to Lion-Nathan. Croser gets the young vines at the top for Tapanappa. The first vintage, 2005, was a stunner. Tapanappa is best known so far for its Cabernet-Shiraz blend, Whalebone Vineyard.
Meanwhile, Croser is close to a deal with Lion-Nathan to buy back the Petaluma winery facility. Lion-Nathan retains the brand and plans to consolidate the winemaking with its other South Australia operations.
Jim Barry Goes for Cabernet: Best known for the usually sensational Clare Valley Shiraz The Armagh, the Jim Barry winery is taking on Cabernet Sauvignon in a big way. Since 2002, the winery has been aiming for the same heights with The Benbournie, a Cabernet Sauvignon, made from old clones and mature vines on the company's McCrae Wood vineyard.
Owner Peter Barry isn't sure whether he will price The Benbournie at the same level as The Armagh when the first vintage is released later this year, but he is hoping it eventually finds a place on the same tier.
"The problem with Australian Cabernet Sauvignon is that we haven't been able to get it ripe enough to get past those green, herbal characters without losing what makes it Cabernet," says Barry. "We think we can do it with this vineyard."
I tasted the 2005, 2004 and 2002. I actually think the best of them is the 2004, which we won't see for a while. The '02 has a lot of savory herb character, distinctly sage and rosemary, to go along with currant and chocolate notes. The '04 is more supple, elegant, and complete, with better tannin texture. The '05 shows lots of good fruit character, but seems less Cabernet-ish.
Prices Have to Go Up: With the Australian dollar gaining against the U.S. dollar, price rises for Australian wines are inevitable over the next year or so. As of today, the exchange rate put the Aussie dollar at nearly 84 cents. Only a month ago it was trading at 78 cents, and a year ago it was less than 70 cents.
Most of the wineries I spoke with expect wines in the $10 to $20 range to go up in the U.S. by at least $1, probably $2. Expect increases of 10 percent or more on higher priced wines.
"My U.S. prices were set on the dollar at 67 cents," said David Clarke, owner of Thorn-Clarke Wines. His Shiraz Shotfire Ridge 2003 (93, $20) was No. 18 on last year's Wine Spectator Top 100, and the folow-up 2004 vintage (91, $18) was another great buy. Added Clarke, "I don't see how we can keep the price under $20 on the 2005."