Tasting Notes - Landmarks of Australian Wine

By Jancis Robinson
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Wine from the Margaret River region in WA - Howard Park, Hay Shed, Leeuwin & Watershed

Wine from the Margaret River region in WA - Howard Park, Hay Shed, Leeuwin & Watershed [©Auscellardoor]

Vine leaves in Autumn in a Victorian vineyard

The Australian wine industry is keenly aware that it needs to brush up its image. With this in mind, and after much brainstorming, Wine Australia has devised four ‘brand personalities’ to increase the sales of Australian wine around the world: Brand Champions, Generation Next, Regional Heroes and Landmark Australia.

Landmark Australia is a concept that was shown off to fine effect in May at a tasting in London led by Michael Hill Smith MW, Australia’s first Master of Wine, and Paul Henry, general manager market development Wine Australia. While I may be cynical about all these marketing labels, I found myself far from cynical about the quality of the 19 wines shown to assorted media and trade tasters at Australia House.

The wines had been selected not so much as the very best wines produced in Australia today or in the last few years but as a way of telling a story about Australia’s ‘pursuit of excellence’ across a range of varieties, regions and styles, though it did not, sadly, include any fortified Muscat. (Not because they are not proud of these wines but apparently because the selection had to be limited.)

Michael prefaced his comments with a quotation from WJ Todd’s 1920s Handbook of Wine (recently republished): “And if they [Australian wines] are not precisely wines for connoisseurs, they are sound and wholesome beverages for citizens of modest means". This tasting aimed to convince journalists, buyers and sommeliers that Australia’s massive export success at the ‘resolutely commercial level’ is and always has been partnered by wines that are regionally distinct, diverse, interesting and individual. I was convinced. Modest means wouldn’t buy many of these wines but the prices of some, the Contours Riesling, for example, are very good for wines of this level of distinction.

Some of the vintages are current, others taken from the wineries’ museum stocks, but all were selected by the winemakers.

Michael Hill Smith is eminently quotable and I particularly liked his description of sparkling Shiraz as ‘the vinous equivalent of being mugged’. He went on to relate the story of how, when he was working in a restaurant way back, he once managed to spray a bottle of said effervescence over a young woman in an immaculate white suit. Producers of sparkling Shiraz might recommend counselling for both parties.

After the formal tasting, there was a chance to taste other nominated Landmark wines. The ones that stood out to me were the toasty fizz Bay of Fires, Arras 2000 Tasmania, the archetypal Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 1998 Hunter Valley, a fine smoky Giant Steps Chardonnay 2005 Yarra Valley and an impressive trio of concentrated Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 1996, 1998, 2006 Barossa Valley. Among the reds, I preferred Moss Wood Cabernet 2004 Margaret River, the big, smoky, dry Shaw and Smith Shiraz 2006 Adelaide Hills, the sweet yet Rhône-like Brokenwood, Graveyard Shiraz 2005 Hunter Valley and, by way of contrast, the intensely rich Duck Muck, Wild Duck Creek Shiraz/Cabernet 2004 Heathcote.

The Landmark 19 were:

Green Point, Z*D 2004 Yarra Valley
Drink 2008-09
Tight, dry and citrussy. Just the merest hint of yeasty autolytic character but that’s not what this wine is about. Slight peppery note. Palate cleansing. Very dry (ZD = zero dosage, ie no sugar addition) but very well balanced. Bottled under crown cap and all the better for it. 12.5%

Grosset, Polish Hill Riesling 2005 Clare Valley
Some developed character on the nose. A little oily and smoky, some spice and just a little toasty but also very pure citrus, mainly lime – in fact the developed aromas seem to get less with time in the glass. Then much more citrus on the palate. Excellent concentration and length. Very very fine and pure and linear, plus the minerally austerity of youth. Beautiful balance even though the acidity is marked. Silky already. 13%

Pewsey Vale, Contours Riesling 2002 Eden Valley
Drink 2007-12
This is Pewsey Vale’s flagship Riesling, released after five years in bottle. More aromatically floral than the Watervale, complex and smoky with the first delicate indication of toasty development. Seems crisper than the Polish Hill but maybe there is less weight to balance, and somehow less developed on the nose. Rich but dry and quite unctuous. 12.5%

McWilliams, Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2001 Hunter Valley
Drink 2010-15
Still green and pale lemon colour. Gently toasty, nutty and slightly herbal. Delicate yet very long, complex and toasty on the palate. More fresh fruit on the palate than on the nose – particularly that early-picked Semillon hallmark of grapefruit. Toastiness builds in the mouth very strongly. Fine and elegant. 11.5%

Tyrrell's, Vat 47 Chardonnay 1998 Hunter Valley
Drink 2008-14
Fermented in a mix of new and one-year-old barriques. Deep greeny gold. Lovely complex nose of sage and roast chicken. Toast and citrus. Both sweet and savoury and then really toasty and rich on the palate. Fine grained, full and rich and still elegant. Limey citrus shows its Hunter Valley origin, even within this traditional oaky winemaking style. Delicious. Buttered toast flavour lasts forever. A masterpiece in this traditional style. 14%

Leeuwin Estate, Art Series Chardonnay 2005 Margaret River
Drink 2008-15
You could hardly find a starker contrast with the Vat 47 than this. Floral and gently spiced, then lots of sweet oak on the palate - it was fermented in new French oak. Some boiled sweet flavours on the palate. Power and finesse on the palate and silky in the mouth even though they do use skin contact (but the Mendoza clone has generally low levels of phenolics). Has weight but also elegance. Oak is very different in expression compared with the Vat 47 – much less toast and spice and felt more in the creamy texture and weight. 14.5%

Shaw and Smith, M3 Chardonnay 2006 Adelaide Hills
Drink 2009-18
Whole bunch pressed. Fermented in new and one-year-old French oak. Pretty tight and closed on the nose – just a hint of toast and honey and citrus. Much more mineral and cooler-climate influenced. Savoury notes. Crisp and fresh and tight. Long and pure and showing great minerality. Extremely pure citrus-clean acidity. Great length. Pure, cool-climate minerally fruit with sophisticated oak seasoning. 13.5%

De Bortoli, Reserve Pinot Noir 2005 Yarra Valley
Drink 2008-12
Sweet, delicately spiced, very pure and fresh. Silk. It does have sweet fruit but not overly so in the way that some Pinots seem almost sickly sweet. Fragrant, lightish and moderate length and fine spicy finish. Not much depth in the middle, which seemed surprising given the yields are less than 1kg per vine, but it is very reasonably priced for a wine with such finesse. 13%

Kooyong, Ferrous Pinot Noir 2005 Mornington Peninsula
Drink 2008-12
Darker, more spiced and oaky than the De Bortoli but top-quality cool-climate fruit shines through. Slight leafiness giving a freshness. Delicate and fine on the mid palate. Spice and some dark fruit on the finish. 13.5%

Tamar Ridge, Kayena Reserve Pinot Noir 2005 Tasmania
Drink 2009-12
Some sweet fruit squash and orange aromas nose. Perfumed and even a little floral. Then more spice. Nose and palate seem out of keeping and the oak (though only 30% new) sticks out in slightly harsh way but perhaps it will settle down. 14%

Wynns, John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 Coonawarra
Drink 2005-12
This was one of my favourite wines of the tasting – it was just so distinctive and complex and expressive. Intensely aromatic – a little touch of leafiness and eucalyptus. Smooth chocolate textured. Fresh and deeply textured. Hard to believe it is already 12 years old. But there are beginnings of leather and cedar box. Concentrated yet lovely purity and freshness. With time in the glass, some gently meaty and savoury notes emerge but so fresh and young. Intensity and purity come from the location and have been preserved by the winemaking. Firm and dry and so fine. Delicious. Structured and elegant. 13%

Cullen, Diana Madeleine Cabernet/Merlot 2004 Margaret River
Drink 2009-16
Sweet and more floral and spiced on the nose than the John Riddoch – but it is also a lot younger. Touch of violets, a little leafy with time in the glass, and bags of lovely perfume. Very dry, dry fine tannins. Some vanilla on the nose and palate though the oak is all French (70% new). There’s a lightness and elegance on the palate but also a fine grainy texture giving depth and character. Subtle and fine and aromatically complex across the mid palate and into the long finish. 14%

Glaetzer, Anaperenna Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Barossa Valley
18 +
Drink 2009-15
Sweet and floral, deep violets and pure black fruit. But a little leafy note for freshness. Very rich and sweet and chocolaty. Deep and rich then there is a lovely dark smoky savoury edge and depth. But there’s also a freshness that lifts the fruit. Intense and rich but the fresh flavour comes in at the end to lift the whole. 14.5%

Hardys, Eileen Hardy Shiraz 1999 McLaren Vale
Drink 2007-12
Bright, intense, menthol and eucalyptus-flavoured dark fruit but also smoky and herbal and some leathery developed notes. Smoky spice. Very dry and dark. Complex rather than terroir specific – ie on the model of Grange. Fresh and showing some lovely leathery development and excellent length. Softened but still dry and upright tannins. 13.5%

Peter Lehmann, Stonewell Shiraz 2001 Barossa Valley
Drink 2007-12
Sweet, rich baking spice on the nose. Gingerbread-edged dark fruit. Very sweet plums but tastes almost like a sweet wine even though it is dry. Orange and spice flavours. Tannins are fine, increasing the elegance on the palate. 14.5%

Penfolds, RWT Shiraz 2004 Barossa Valley
Drink 2008-14
Very fine dark fruit. Pure, dry, dark and mineral. Lots of spice but also savoury. Soft and chocolate textured but a lovely dark dry fruit flavour. Very smooth. Has that savoury character of Douro reds but it's softer, smoother and more approachable. Delicious. 14.5%

Mount Langi Ghiran, Langi Shiraz 2004 Grampians
Drink 2008-13
Very peppery aromatic nose. Pure dark fruit. Lovely dry peppery finesse. Elegant and extremely fine texture. So elegant and silky even though there is great power and length. Markedly fresh finish. Pure, chalky. Ethereal power. Screwcap. 15%

Yering Station, Reserve Shiraz/Viognier 2003 Yarra Valley
Drink 2008-12
Deeply spiced and lightly perfumed, peppery. There’s a nice subtle meaty touch but the highest profile is lifted and elegant floral fruit. Subtle fluid flavour, chocolate-smooth tannins. Fine and fresh and approachable. Sweet dark fruit but acid balance is just right. 15%

S C Pannell, Shiraz/Grenache 2005 McLaren Vale
Drink 2008-10
Initially dusty and peppery on the nose and a mix of black and red fruit. Really juicy and mouthwateringly delicious. More delicious than great and so very drinkable. 90-year-old old Shiraz and 60-year-old Grenache bushvines. History-marking wines. Sweet ripe fruit: medium bodied and only lightly oaked. Drawn back to a place of balance – he hasn’t tried too hard. 14.5%


Reproduced with permission.  © Copyright 2000-2010 Jancis Robinson

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