As we skipped across the Granite Belt over a few days, I often wondered what it was about these soils that delivered some great wines. Some vineyards look like a granite kitchen bench top smashed up into fine pieces with a grape vine growing out of it. Poor soils on the face of it indeed. But further to that, which variety can be hung as the flagship of the region?
Up until now, many varietals have done well on the Granite Belt but none commanding the respect as number one. Think about it - the Yarra has Pinot, Barossa Shiraz, Margaret River is synonymous with Cabernet, Hunter's king is Semillon, and the Clare Valley has Riesling. I could go on. Shiraz, Cabernet and Chardonnay all perform well here as do others, but perhaps it is Verdelho, with Tempranillo steadily gaining ground behind them as both are gaining some ascendancy.
Like all regions, there is some tooth paste wash, to put it nicely, amongst them. Every region has them. Let's be realistic about it. But there are also some gems emerging. Classy and innovative winemakers bringing a new brand of wine to be discovered and for the punters to stand up and take note. If you haven't heard of these guys before, track them down and see what they are doing: Glen Robert (Bent Road), Peter McGlashan (Ridgemill Estate), Peter Stark (Boireann), and Thomas New (Dirty Minds Wine Co) to name a few.
I caught up with these guys and many others over the weekend. No notes on recent work in this post on Glen or Thomas, but stay tuned for future reviews.
The highlights of the weekend were:
Shiraz Viognier 2011: Shiraz and 5% Viognier co-fermented. A dirty yet attractive bouquet I thought with distinct minerality and pepper. These two characters flowed onto the palate coupled with juicy dark fruit flavours. A savoury element kicks in to add more interest with a long finish leaving a grip which will settle in the bottle in years to come. I'm a big fan! $35
Shiraz Mourvedre 2011: Shiraz adds 55% to the mix with a good dollop of spice from the Mourvedre. Very gamey and fleshy. Super length that just sits perfectly. Very nice. $30
Tannat 2011: Not too many straight Tannat wines in Australia at the moment, particularly as the last straight Tannat Peter Stark made was in 2005! A most interesting piece of work here. Tannat has thick skin, is quite phenolic and retains lots of natural acidity and all characteristics are evident here. Super dark colour with a violet perfume. Blackberries and clear savouriness dominate the palate. A good drying finish to cap off a well made wine. $35
La Cima Nebbiolo 2011: Not the best Nebbiolo Peter has put out, hence the price has been halved from previous vintages. Although, for the dollar, you still get a great deal. Light in colour, not uncommon to a Yarra Pinot in some respects. This is deceptive as the body is gutsy leaving you with a powdery tannin. 2011 wasn't a great vintage yet this was a more than acceptable effort considering. $18
Summit Estate http://www.summitestate.com.au/
Verdelho 2011: Big tropical fruit hit on the nose with zingy palate. A touch of spice to add a little extra complexity. This refreshing Verdelho is made for a warm day with a bucket of prawns. $20
Shiraz Tempranillo 2010: Inviting dark colour with gentle spice bouquet. Clear savoury characteristics with good fruit weight. Firm tannins. A very tidy wine but a little over priced. $35
Queensland Cabernet 2009: A terrific blend made very well. Thrown in the mix with Cabernet is Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Once again, a very good colour with fragrant violets prominent. Intense concentration of blackberry fruit on the palate. A big wine yet classy with a long, lingering finish. Delish! $40
Pyramids Road http://www.pyramidsroad.com.au/
Shiraz 2009: Vibrant colour. Some charred oak on the nose and a touch of vanilla from French and American oak. Good structure with enjoyable spice on a medium palate. Well made. $30
Shiraz 2011: A preview of what is to come and soon to be released. From a wet vintage, a red fruit bouquet. Lovely spice elements kicking in. The wine has only been in the bottle a week and will only get better and soften beautifully (13.5%). Leave it for 12 months and watch it shine.
Bernies Blend 2009: An ever changing blend using the best barrels of that vintage. A barrel each of Mourvedre and Cabernet, and one being a Shiraz/Cabernet/Merlot/Mourvedre blend. Big dark fruit flavours. This blend works and then some! Not only does the fruit tie in nicely, but the mix of oak from the various barrels all play their part. Fleshy and gutsy with great length. Get some. $35
Bernies Blend 2011: Warren pulled out a barrel sample to share a preview. Once again, Bernies Blend is ever changing and this time in it is a 50/50 blend of Mourvedre and Shiraz. This stacks up again with raspberry bush and rose hip tea on the nose. Spice from the Mourvedre kicks in on the nose too. Dark concentrated juicey fruit on the palate. Very approachable and time will bring it together further more.
Mourvedre 2011: Only just bottled - I'm talking days and I'm pleased I was the first to have been given the privilege of having a look at it. Loads of fruit. This is on the way to a good place so let it sit for a couple of years to see its best. Lovely spice elements with some acid which will give it longevity. $30
Ridgemill Estate http://www.ridgemillestate.com/
Verdelho 2011: Slight whiff of pear along with typical tropical fruit. A cleansing fresh palate. Good acid leaving a refreshing finish. $20
Monastrell Tempranillo 2009: Is this a mirror image of the winemaker? Big, gutsy yet very approachable. A masculine style wine here without question, a blend of Monastrell (66%) and Tempranillo (33%). A big sniff of this reveals raspberry jam on toast. A full palate which needs food. Coconut characters are subtle and a result of the new American oak used. Drying tannins to finish off. Lots to like here. $25
Shiraz 2009: A little more aromatic than the '08. Gamey and fleshy with a peppery palate. Great length and drying finish.
"The Spaniard" Tempranillo 2009: A good whiff of oak, dark cherries and herb. Minimal acid. A lovely rounded palate with juicey fruit and good length. $30
Saperavi 2012: Winemaker Peter McGlashan has a few interesting things on the go and this is one of them. Minute quantities made, only 50L! Not available for purchase at this stage but a twist of the arm may get you a sample at the Cellar Door. Bright purple colour. Lavender nose. Acid is up there but fits in well with the profile of the wine. A native varietal from Georgia which thrives in cold climates so I'd be interested to see how this vintage develops in coming years and how Saperavi performs in subsequent vintages on the Granite Belt.
Jacquez 2011: Another variety which is significantly different. Only 1000L made and is due for release in twelve months. Alcohol is up there, 14%. Big and black. Man it's dark. A touch of lavender and musk on the nose. Once it hits the palate it sticks to the front and lingers there nicely. Some juicey fruit but the remainder of the palate was cleansed quickly. I'd be interested to see where this is at in another twelve months.
Symphony Hill http://www.symphonyhill.com.au/
Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011: Asparagus on the nose. Grassy with a slip of passionfruit. Some texture for interest. I'm not a big Sauv fan but this struck a chord. Very enjoyable. $25
Reserve Verdelho 2010: A dry style Verdelho. Clear appearance. Crisp tropical fruit. Some mouth warmth. Zesty. $25
Viognier 2009: Wild ferment with two months in older oak. A bouquet of butterscotch, fleshy fruit on entry with some buttery characteristics lingering well. Not the soupy apricot nectar type of Viognier commonly found on the shelf. Very good. $30
"Danying" Cabernet 2009: Twelve months in French oak. Good colour. Blackberries and plums on the nose which run onto the palate nicely. A well weighted palate with a soft finish. Top value for $25.
Reserve Shiraz 2008: A big rich and inviting nose and is a massive leap in quality from the standard Shiraz in the range. Quite aromatic with distinct raspberry and white pepper. An impressive juicey palate finish with good tannins which could nearly be powdery. Not so sure on the price tag but still a wine worth a look. $65
Reserve Shiraz Viognier 2009: Spot on target. Inviting nose of dark fruits and berries which roll onto a generous palate. Well weighted. Viognier adds a distinct perfume and softness. I was a big fan. $45
Hidden Creek http://www.hiddencreek.com.au/
Verdelho 2010: Stand up and take note! Fresh. Clean. Good acid. Refreshing tropical fruit with good length. Yum. A no nonsense type at a top price too. $18
Chardonnay 2009: Nutty and spice on a soft yet generous palate. Good length. Not overly oaked. Well made. A Chardonnay to engage those who don't like Chardonnay. $22
Tempranillo 2009: Varietal nose. Plummy and savoury with enjoyable length. A little firmer mouthfeel but still delish. $22
Golden Grove http://www.goldengroveestate.com.au/
Semillon 2007: Deliberate aged release which has paid dividends. Lovely oak characters with some slight honey tones. Persistent finish with good acid. $20
Barbera 2011: Very easy drinking style. Light to medium body. Some sour cherry kicking in on a soft palate with a little mouth warmth. Load this up with a pasta dish or pizza. Happy days. $20
Nero d'Avola 2011: Inviting aromatics with more punch than some other NDVs I have had. Darker in the glass than I expected but this is the style the winemaker is pursuing. Medium bodied with raspberry and blackcurrant. Oak adds a neat dimension (13.5% abv). $22
Tempranillo 2010: Plummy, juicey and smooth. Great length and soft tannin grip. Lots to like and well made. $28
Ravens Croft http://www.ravenscroftwines.com.au/
Only the Verdelho and Pinotage are estate grown. The vineyard sits at an altitude of 930m.
Verdelho 2012: Fresh and aromatic. Tight acid. Citrus notes distinct on the palate (13.5%). Ten weeks between picking and bottling. I like it. $22
Pinotage 2011: This is Mark's second vintage with only 600 bottles produced. Very little Pinotage is grown in Australian, whereas Pinotage is king in Mark's native South Africa, so you can see where his passion stems from. The bouquet awakens the senses. Stewed berry pudding, toffee, butterscotch and raspberry jam. Wow! A lighter palate than expected (14% abv) with soft fruit including strawberry. Grippy tannins which will soften in time but still complement the wine nicely. Well made and definitely one to keep an eye on as vintages progress. $35
A big thanks to all the wineries and winemakers for their time. I really enjoyed our discussions and your warming and welcoming hospitality.