Apparently Unicorns Do Exist in Australia

Today’s Story: Sami-Odi

Sami-Odi is a small but highly regarded winery established in the Barossa Valley of Australia by Fraser McKinley in 2006. Working exclusively with Syrah/Shiraz from the Hoffmann family’s esteemed Dallwitz Vineyard, McKinley farms his rows of often very old vines (some dating back to the 1880s) adhering to organic viticulture. He also picks earlier than most around him, based largely on his high level of importance placed on acidity. Sami-Odi produces two wines each vintage with blending the name of the game, one of them being a vintage bottling assembled from fruit of varying vine age and blocks, with the other being a non-vintage assemblage of various blocks, vine age, and vintage. The Sami-Odi wines are a result of traditional winemaking, with manual work prevalent alongside whole-cluster fermentation and no additions save for a minimal amount of sulfur. Aging occurs in neutral oak, and bottling is gravity-fed with the wines always unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Story: NV Little Wine #9

100% Syrah (yes, Fraser calls it Syrah and not Shiraz); 14.1% ABV

The NV Little Wine #9 is opaque deep purple in color. This is an assemblage of 42% 2019 vintage, 37% 2018, 13% 2017, 4% 2016, and 4% 2015 so I decanted it for about 5 hours due to the youthful tilt. The nose is elegantly perfumed and an absolute showstopper, offering up with pronounced intensity aromas of black plum, blueberry, blackberry, crushed violets, licorice, worn leather, a hint of smoked game, tobacco, freshly-sharpened lead pencil, subtle dried earth, and mild baking spice. Meanwhile the palate is also of pronounced intensity, showcasing notes of rich black plum, blackberry, ripe blueberry, blue and purple florals, tobacco, eucalyptus, cracked green peppercorn, black tea, clove, and a hint of smoke. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, and a long, lingering finish. What’s amazing is how concentrated and powerful the wine is, but at the same time it is incredibly restrained and just downright beautiful. 537 cases produced.

Fruit sourced from vines planted in 1996, 1995, 1960, 1927, and prior to 1912.

Price: $100. To be honest, I am incredibly lucky to have purchased this bottle in the USA. I’ve been tracking down some Sami-Odi for about a year now, and I think it lives up to the hype. This is an awesome and outrageously complex Aussie Syrah well worth the price-point. If you’re fortunate enough to find some, buy it.

Delicious, Small Production Australian Shiraz

Today’s Story: Coriole Vineyards

Coriole Vineyards is a third generation family owned and operated winery established by Hugh and Molly Lloyd in 1967 in the McLaren Vale region of Australia. At that time Coriole consisted of 12 acres of vineyards with Shiraz vines dating back to 1919, and the Lloyd’s released their first “Claret” wine in 1969. Though Shiraz is undoubtedly one of the varieties McLaren Vale is known for, Coriole spiced things up over the years by planting Sangiovese in 1985 which makes up 10% of the land under vine. Coriole consists of 25 different vineyards, made up of 65% Shiraz, 10% Sangiovese, 5% Chenin, 5 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Nero d’Avola, and the balance inclusive of Fiano, Grenache, Barbera, Mourvedre, and Montepulciano. The Lloyd family farms their vineyards adhering to organic practices and they are pending certification, while when it comes to winemaking itself they are largely traditional.

As the website is full of additional information, gorgeous pictures of the vineyards, and the full portfolio of wines, I encourage you to visit here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Lloyd Reserve Shiraz

100% Shiraz; 14% ABV

The 2016 Lloyd Reserve Shiraz is opaque medium purple in color. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of plum, blueberry, black cherry, cola, tobacco, graphite, cedar spill, tilled rocky soil, and cinnamon. On the palate, I get notes of spiced black plum, blackberry, black raspberry, black cherry, sweet tobacco, wet gravel, and light toasted oak. The purity of fruit here is striking. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. 330 cases produced.

Price: $40 ($80 from the winery). I got this for an absolute steal and it’s worth every penny. This is a gorgeous, textbook modern Shiraz and even at $80 I would be tempted to give it a shot. I will certainly be buying more at $40!

Fantastic Riesling From Eden Valley’s Oldest Vineyard

Today’s Story: Pewsey Vale Vineyard

Pewsey Vale Vineyard was first established in the Eden Valley wine region of South Australia in 1847 by Joseph Gilbert. After arriving from England, Gilbert sourced his vines from Macarthur Vineyards at Camden in New South Wales which were originally sourced from Rheingu, Germany in 1837. Importantly, Pewsey Vale Vineyard is not only Eden Valley’s first ever planted grapevines, but the first successful recorded importation of the Riesling variety to Australia as a whole. Though the vineyard fell into disrepair during the global financial crisis of the late 1920s and 1930s, it was rediscovered in 1961 and vigneron Wyndham Hill Smith started revamping the site. Today, Pewsey Vale produces 4 bottlings of Riesling from this historic site.

The vineyard itself sits on average around 485 to 500 meters above sea level and is planted entirely to the Riesling variety. Difficult to manage due to its high altitude, rocks, and varying microclimates, the vineyard demands constant care from winemaker Louisa Rose and viticulturist Darrell Kruger. In 2013, the Contours block of the vineyard (where my wine today comes from) received organic certification, though Kruger farms it adhering to biodynamic practices.

Today’s Wine: 2013 The Contours Museum Reserve Riesling

100% Riesling; 12% ABV

The 2013 Contours Museum Reserve Riesling is transparent medium straw in color with greenish-yellow hues around the rim of the glass. This is gorgeous on the nose, with aromas of lemon, lime, green apple, white florals, petrol, wet stone, and rubber. On the palate, I get notes of lime zest, grapefruit, underripe pear, lemongrass, honeysuckle, toast, and rocky mineral. This dry Riesling is light- to medium-bodied with vibrant high acidity and a long finish.

Price: $34. This is a very nice wine with only untapped potential with more bottle age, and one that I find to be a great value. Definitely give this a shot if you come across it.

Screaming Value From Heathcote, Australia

Today’s Story: Jasper Hill

Jasper Hill is a small family owned and operated winery in Heathcote, Australia founded by Ron and Elva Laughton. The Laughtons planted their vineyards beginning in 1975 with all of the vines own rooted (not grafted for resistance to Phylloxera) and today they include Emily’s Paddock (3ha Shiraz with 5% Cabernet Franc) and Georgia’s Paddock (12ha Shiraz, 3ha Riesling, and 1ha each of Semillon, Nebbiolo, and Viognier). There was a third vineyard, Cornella Vineyard, that was 4ha Grenache but it unfortunately burned in 2013. Jasper Hill’s vineyards are organically farmed and they do not use irrigation, insecticides, herbicides, synthetic fungicides, or artificial fertilizers. Meanwhile all pruning and harvesting is accomplished by hand and tillage remains low. Thanks to minimal intervention in both the vineyards and cellar, Jasper Hill wines are meant to display their terroir with honesty while maintaining the innate character of each variety.

2013 Occam’s Razor Shiraz

100% Shiraz (Syrah); 15% ABV

The 2013 Occam’s Razor Shiraz is opaque deep purple in color with ruby variation near the rim. After opening up for an hour and a half, the wine showcases a nose of blackberry, juicy plum, blueberry, cassis, lavender, cigar box, wet gravelly soil, graphite, light baking spice, and toasted oak. Once on the palate, this displays notes of black plum, black cherry, redcurrant, black licorice, sweet tobacco, loamy earth, smoke, slate, black pepper, and chocolate. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) somewhat chewy tannins, and a long finish dominated by black fruits and iron.

Price: $30. This is an outstanding value, perhaps the greatest value Shiraz I’ve had to date. The wine drinks with such elegance and beauty you could mistake this for something at least twice its price. Pair with a bacon cheeseburger, roasted leg of lamb, or duck.

The Proof Is in the Berry

Describing Jayson Woodbridge requires a thesaurus. Passionate is a good word, along with driven, charismatic and hedonistic. You could add exacting, arrogant and volatile. Woodbridge is happy to paint a target on his chest and dare you to shoot if he’s trying to make a point. And he’s always trying to make a point.

Tim Fish, Wine Spectator

Today’s Story: Hundred Acre

Hundred Acre was established with an inaugural 2000 vintage by owner and winemaker Jayson Woodbridge who endeavored (and to this day endeavors) to create a pinnacle Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. A former investment banker characterized by some as flamboyant, visionary, genius, arrogant, volatile, and contrarian (source – one of many), Woodbridge named his winery for the Kayli Morgan Vineyard’s resemblance to the Hundred Acre Wood from Winnie the Pooh. Childhood cartoons aside, Woodbridge demands utmost precision in farming the vineyards and making his wines where nearly everything is accomplished by hand. The vines are pruned by hand and grapes sorted INDIVIDUALLY by hand under a rockstar team of Philippe Melka (consultant) and Jim Barbour (vineyard manager – think Checkerboard and Blankiet) but ultimately the buck stops with Woodbridge. To gain more insight into this producer of more than one dozen 100-point wines, you’ll simply need to sign up on the waiting list (which reportedly spans longer than 5 years) here.

Today’s Wine: 2005 Ancient Way Vineyard Summer’s Blocks Shiraz

100% Shiraz; 15.5% ABV

The 2005 Ancient Way Summer’s Blocks is opaque deep garnet in color with deep ruby/purple hues. I decanted this for 1.5 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. The remarkably youthful nose showcases aromas of juicy black plum, black raspberry, baked wild strawberry, fig, coconut, black licorice, cigar box, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. I am surprised there isn’t any heat on the nose given the high ABV. Once in the mouth, this elegant wine displays notes of blackcurrant, jammy blackberry, black plum, bing cherry, anise, sweet tobacco, gingerbread, chocolate, black olive, and savory herbs. This is medium- to full-bodied and incredibly well-balanced with medium (+) acidity, velvety medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. What is truly impressive here is the utter silkiness of the mouthfeel; I don’t think any wine I’ve had compares.

Price: $150. Considering the Hundred Acre Cabs go for $500+ per bottle I was excited to try their Shiraz for this price and it is absolutely worth it. On paper, this doesn’t seem like my style of wine but I couldn’t help but nearly gulp this down. Pair this with balsamic glazed duck breast, roasted leg of lamb, or mature hard cheese.

Unique and Powerful Shiraz

Today’s Story: d’Arenberg

d’Arenberg (known as Bundarra at the time) was established in 1912 by Joseph Osborn in McLaren Vale after he sold his stable of prize winning race horses to purchase the property. They planted their first vineyards to 8 acres of Shiraz, though only 4 acres survived, and Joseph and his son Frank harvested their first vintage in 1913 and sold the fruit for £20 per ton. In 1927, Frank’s brother-in-law encouraged him to produce his own wine and, after studying winemaking at Ryecroft, he produced his first red table wine and port labeled Bundarra Vineyards by F. E. Osborn & Sons in 1928.

During WWII, Frank’s health deteriorated and he halted wine production in 1942 until his son d’Arry left school at the age of 16 to work at the family winery. d’Arry oversaw several great technological advances, including the use of McLaren Vale’s first rubber-tired tractor in 1946 and electricity in 1951. Several years later, d’Arry established his own wine label named for his late mother and adorned it with the family crest and signature red stripe. In 1965, the Bailey family who owned a well-established winery in Glenrowen, Victoria named Bundarra challenged d’Arry’s use of Bundarra so d’Arry decided to drop the name from his vineyard and wines.

Over the next couple years, d’Arenberg expanded with a second tasting room to accommodate increasing numbers of visitors and installed their own bottling line. During the 1970s, d’Arenberg rose to new heights by winning several awards for their 1967 Burgundy which proceeded accolades by their Rhine Riesling and Port. In 1984, d’Arry’s son Chester Osborn took over as chief winemaker and set about restoring traditional winemaking methods such as foot treading and basket pressing while eliminating fertilizer and minimizing irrigation in the vineyards to reduce yields. In 1988, d’Arenberg exported their Shiraz and Shiraz Grenache blend wines to Europe for the first time which marked another milestone in the brand’s global acceptance.

A man striving to reach new heights, Chester became one of the first to plant white Rhône varieties in McLaren Vale in 1995/1996 with 10 acres of Marsanne, 9 acres of Roussanne, and 14 acres of Viognier. Since then, Chester racked up an impressive resume of awards and trophies for both himself and the d’Arenberg winery. One of their highly awarded wines, The Dead Arm Shiraz, is what I am reviewing today and it was first released in 1993. Dead Arm is caused by the fungus Eutypa lata and affects old vines by slowly reducing one half (or arm) of the vine to dead wood. At most wineries, these vines are pruned, replanted, or abandoned but d’Arenberg sustains these low yielding vines to produce powerful and concentrated wines. The fruit for this wine is kept separate throughout the winemaking process and given extra care before being passed through a gentle roll crusher in small batches before foot treading and basket pressing. Primary and secondary fermentation is accomplished in used French and old American oak barriques and the wine is aged for 20 months on lees. Chester and his team select the best barrels for final blending and this is bottled with no fining or filtration.

Today’s Wine: 2009 The Dead Arm Shiraz

100% Shiraz/Syrah; 14.5% ABV

The 2009 Dead Arm is deep garnet in color and completely opaque. This demands an hour-plus to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, baked black cherry, redcurrant, licorice, smoke, chocolate, coffee, forest floor, underbrush, and charred red meat. Once on the palate, the wine offers notes of blackcurrant, juicy plum, cherry, tobacco, loamy soil, black pepper, wet crushed rock, mocha, tar, and oak. This is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by flavors of dark berries and char. The wine is powerful yet balanced with the structure to go at least another 5 years.

Price: $60 (though slightly cheaper overseas). This is an outstanding value that drinks like some of the “higher end” Shiraz out of Australia. Pair this with herb-roasted leg of lamb, barbecue spareribs, or strong hard cheeses.

Baby Grange

Today’s Story: Penfolds

Penfolds was founded in 1844 by Dr. Christopher Penfold, an English physician by trade, and his wife Mary. Penfolds is one of the oldest and most famous wineries in Australia, with the first vines planted by Dr. and Mrs. Penfold with cuttings they brought when they emigrated there. Over time Penfolds grew successfully and their early production of Claret and Riesling proved popular, though many of the day-to-day operations of the winery fell to Mary since Christopher’s medical practicing occupied much of his time. When Christopher unfortunately passed in 1870, full responsibility fell to Mary. Mary later retired in 1884 and her daughter Georgina took over the estate when Penfolds was producing 1/3 of South Australia’s wine. When Mary died in 1896, the Penfolds legacy was continuing to grow with the exploration of new winemaking techniques and they became the largest winery in Australia by 1907.

In 1948, Penfolds hired who would become one of the most famous winemakers in Australia and throughout the world of wine: Max Schubert. An innovator in his field, Max catapulted Penfolds onto the global stage by crafting wines built for incredible aging through experimentation and ultimately the release of Penfolds Grange in the early 1950s. Labeled as “Grange Hermitage” and crafted with Shiraz, Grange is one of the world’s most famous wines and you often find it at the store for $700+ per bottle. In 1959, the unique “Bin” labeling started at Penfolds with the first being a Shiraz named simply for its storage area in the cellars. This Kalimna Bin 28 became the first Penfolds Bin numbered wine.

Though a lot has changed over the years at Penfolds, the experimental spirit of winemaking continues to live on to this day. All of their wines fit into categories of single vineyard or single block, single region or sub-region, and multi-region or multi-varietal blending in an effort to showcase each category’s character. The wine I’m reviewing today, for instance, fits into the multi-region or multi-varietal category while something like the Magill Estate Shiraz fits into the single vineyard or single block category. At the head of a team of roughly 10 winemakers crafting these wines, Peter Gago is chief winemaker today and the fourth in the history of Penfolds. For more about Penfolds, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz

54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Shiraz; 14.5% ABV

The 2017 Bin 389 is incredibly opaque and deep purple in color with black at its core. Once this opens up (I drank this over four hours), the nose showcases aromas of blackberry compote, plum, blueberry, smoke, tobacco, forest floor after a rainstorm, wet slate, thyme, eucalyptus, nutmeg, and cedar. On the palate, I get notes of black raspberry, black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, cigar box, damp earth, dark chocolate, mint, vanilla, and oak. This wine is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $50. This is a great bottle of wine and while not the cheapest from Grange a great introduction to their portfolio. Though young, this is drinking surprisingly well with some air but I’d lay this down a few more years. Pair this with beef carpaccio, roast beef, or roasted leg of lamb.