Australia’s Barossa Valley

27L bottle on right

27L bottle on right

The last part of our Australia trip focused on Barossa which we toured from our base at the exquisite Louise hotel.  Barossa is a bit further north and has more daily temperature variation as a result. Our first stop was Torbreck.  The Torbreck name comes from a forest in Scotland and interestingly enough, there are still quite a few Scottish folks who live in the area.  Torbreck produces about 60,000 bottles of wine with half of that being their Woodcutter Shiraz.  They use simple winemaking techniques such as open ferment and basket press for their wines.  They also do many special format bottles (even large ones such as 27 liters) for private collectors all over the world.  If you’ve ever wondered what some of those bottles cost, a 27L bottle of their RunRig Shiraz goes for $27,000. A bottle of that size alone, minus the wine, may cost $3000. 27L of wine is equivalent to 6 cases of wine so you’d need quite a big party to break that out!

We tried at least 20 wines here including Semillon, Marsanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Grenache, and many blends. Highlights for me were the 2014 Struie, the 2013 Descendant, and the 2012 RunRig.  These three wines are all predominantly Shiraz and they increase in depth and complexity from the Struie to the RunRig. The dense and powerful RunRig reminded me of a fireplace in my mouth (smoky, dense, and spicy) in a good way.   The Descendant tasted of layered mulberry, black pepper, and savory spices.  While high in alcohol (15+), the ripe fruit and full tannins made for a seamless integration.

tait4That evening we went to Tait Wines.  Set back among rugged hills, this was another highlight of the trip. The Tait family did a huge barbeque for us and we ate in their beautifully decorated cellar barn.  It was charming, quaint, traditional, and wonderfully casual.  We got to watch the meat come right off the grill while sipping through the Tait product line and talking with the entire Tait family (including their two enchanting children).   The Tait wines are also powerful and robust and are aimed at the American palate.  My favorites here were the 2014 Border Crossing Shiraz and the Liquid Gold Fronti, a Port-like wine made from Frontignan grapes for only $20.  There are not many places where the hostess and winery owner (Michelle Tait) is out picking the table arrangements herself and the winemaker owner (Bruno Tait) is making his own pies for us to try.  It was a truly special visit.

louise1louise3Remember that driving rain I mentioned earlier?  Well it continued through the rest of the trip.  Turns out we were there during a rare early spring storm and most of the year’s rain fell in just a few days.  The rain and harsh winds added a nostalgic character to the visit for me as I love rainy days and The Louise was just the place to hunker down by the fireplace and drink some Aussie Port.  Also in such a water-challenged place as Australia, it’s hard to not appreciate water when it comes naturally.

On our last day in Barossa we set out again in the rain for Two Hands Wines.  We lunched in another cellar and had home-made pizzas while enjoying, interestingly enough, a 2005 Domaine Lucien Boillot & Fils Nuits St. Georges Burgundy and a 2000 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape.   The Two Hands owners have a rule to never drink their own wines during meals as they feel it makes them lose objectivity.  Their wines were also very good especially the 2013 Ares Shiraz.

sthOur final Barossa stop was at the lovely St. Hallett.  We tasted through about 15 wines here including Riesling, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The 2010 St. Hallett Blackwell Shiraz was a group favorite as was the 1996 Old Block Shiraz.  We also did a blending exercise which is always fascinating.  We used three vats of different wines and combined them into our own wines.  This is a lot harder than it sounds and gives one a great appreciation for how hard it is to make a good wine.

sth2Anne Marie Wright, one of the winemakers here, was wonderfully effusive and knowledgeable explaining the nuances of all of the wines to us.  She is also a Scottish transplant, one of many to visit Australia only to never leave.

We ended the evening with a stunning sparkling Shiraz called The Black NV.  This one was dry (not sweet like many) and incredibly good.  Unfortunately like many of the other excellent wines we found on the trip, this one doesn’t get sent to the U.S.

wendoureeAustralia was full of surprises, rugged and graceful beauty, and incredible wines. The many different expressions of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon were astounding and impossible to lump into one style. We barely scratched the surface of this huge continent and we have many reasons to go back.  One of those is the Wendouree Cabernet Sauvignon I mentioned before.  This wine is from Clare Valley (north of Barossa) and is apparently a small production cult wine in Australia whose owners sell by mail-order only and don’t like attention to the point that they have no website, no tasting room (called cellar door in Australia), and not even an email address.  One must call or write a physical letter in order to communicate and even then, there is a long waiting list for their wine.

Somehow all of this only adds to the incredible appeal of this ethereal wine for me.  It was one of those rare wines that make time stop for a minute with its brooding complexity and cascading finish.  I am trying every angle to hunt one down again but I suspect it will end up on my future list of “Wines that Got Away”.  But I’m going to keep trying even if I have to go back to Australia to get one.