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Items From the Australian Wine Trail

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Apr 18, 2007 10:07am ET

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."

Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  April 18, 2007 10:40pm ET
I just finished tasting the 2005 Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Ridge Shiraz in a vertical with the 03 and 04. While there are marked differences in the 03 and 04, stylistically, the 05 isn't even remotely close to either in quality, to my palate. Such an imbalance of aggressively sharp lime acidity that splits everything up & really detracts from the rest of the flavors. It took a full week open (with air pumped out) for that edge to mellow, but it remained in the aromas. Maybe it's just a bad case of bottle variation at play here, but I think Clarke would be well-advised to keep it under $20 until he's got a more likeable vintage.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  April 19, 2007 3:32am ET
I tasted the 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2005 at the winery. I thought the '05 was better than the '04, very ripe and supple. It's bottled under screwcap, so I'm not sure what the deal is with what you got, but it's obviously something.
Don Kiszka
Leavenworth, KS —  April 19, 2007 12:31pm ET
I think the '05 Shotfire is great. Available for $14 in greater Kansas City area. Better go get some more before it goes up.
Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  April 19, 2007 12:37pm ET
Harvey, both you & Robert Parker gave the 05 tremendous-sounding reviews and scores(particularly for the price, I think), and that gives me good reason to doubt my experience or, as I offered earlier, chalk it up to bottle variation. I will purchase one more bottle & try it, too, but at the moment it seems unlikely I'll buy a case, as I did with the previous 2 vintages. (and thank goodness I did - they're both spectacular in their own way and right on target with my tastes.) I also wonder, should it persist, whether another year of bottle age with take that edge I perceived away?
Jason Kadushin
Seattle, WA —  April 19, 2007 3:23pm ET
Harvey - am curious about your take on the TREMENDOUS price increase (way more than 10%) for two hands.
Dave Joyce
Winston-Salem, NC —  April 19, 2007 7:00pm ET
Harvey, While you are knocking around South Australia, do you plan to drop in on Tasha Mooney at Fox Gordon? I would love some barrel notes on the 2006's. We really love her wines, and so do our customers. We were lucky to have her drop in and do an event with our customers during her swing through the states last fall, along with Neil Prentice of Moondara (speaking of good Aussie Pinot's). In fact, she pretty much came east from her dinner with you, if I remember correctly (corked bottles and all). A great winemaker, and a very nice person to boot!

Her "Abby" Viognier just arrived (a beautiful lush style), and her 05 Hannah's Swing is on the way, so having a few notes from you on 2006 would give us a jump on starting to beg for allocations of that vintage!
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  April 19, 2007 7:48pm ET
I wish I had an extra three weeks to see all the people I would like to in Australia, but I couldn't fit Tash into my plans this time. I do like her Fox Gordon wines a lot (and her, for that matter).
David A Zajac
April 20, 2007 4:01pm ET
When speaking about the Thorne Clarke wines, I actually prefer their Barossa Cuvee more than their Shiraz, had a bottle of the 2004 (I think!) last week and it was sensational. Its a steal for the price and don't overlook this wine...in fact, if you going to buy a case, split it between the two!
Russell Quong
Sunnyvale, CA —  April 25, 2007 11:35pm ET
Dan's experience is interesting as the 2003 Shotfire Ridge was the outlier for me. The 2003 was racy, thin and acidic, but not the opulent wine I expected. I didn't understand the reviews. But based on WS and Parker's rave reviews and price, I've now tried both the 2004 and 2005 which have been pleasingly ripe and rich. Fortunately I have a few more bottles of the 2003 to taste again.

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