Australia

Torbreck’s ‘The Laird’ – Pursuing Perfection in One of Australia’s Greatest Wines

Torbreck’s ‘The Laird’ – Pursuing Perfection in One of Australia’s Greatest Wines

Post by Chuck Hayward | May 10th, 2013

Not one, but two (!) vintages of 'The Laird'

Not one, but two (!) vintages of ‘The Laird’

So what is it like to drink perfection? It’s a question frequently asked by consumers and the trade. The following story is about tasting 100-point ‘perfection’. And it begins many years ago…

In the summer of 2010, I heard that Torbreck, one of the Barossa Valley’s leading wineries, had released a new wine from the 2005 vintage called ‘The Laird’. The textured black label stood in stark contrast to the winery’s classic white paper label, indicating a significant departure from Torbreck’s usual range of wines. Indeed, ‘The Laird’ was exactly that, a wine geared for the super-premium market, occupied by legends like Penfolds ‘Grange’ and Henschke’s ‘Hill of Grace’ – with a price to match. I needed to know more. (more…)

For Wine Lovers Down Under, The “Options” Are Endless

For Wine Lovers Down Under, The “Options” Are Endless

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 14th, 2013

The end of the options lunch. Note the small wooden barrel for coins

The end of the options lunch. Note the small wooden barrel for coins

The Sydney Royal Wine Show is one of Australia’s most prestigious wine competitions. Ranking up there with shows based in Adelaide and Melbourne, the organizers have selected an international wine figure to serve as a guest judge since 1986 and this year, I was honored to be selected to fulfill this role. Judging duties kicked-off with one of the show’s most important traditions, the Peter Doyle Options Game.

Leave it to the Australians to take something like blind wine tasting and turn it into a game. Called Wine Options or just plain Options, it was developed by Len Evans, one of Australia’s pioneering wine educators and personalities. Legend has it that he dipped into his cellar after a long lunch and served a bottle blind, asking his mates a series of questions that became ever more specific until the wine was identified. (more…)

Ted Lemon: “The Concept of Noble Place in New World Winegrowing”

Ted Lemon: “The Concept of Noble Place in New World Winegrowing”

Post by Chuck Hayward | February 20th, 2013

Ted Lemon of Littorai Wines

Ted Lemon of Littorai & Burn Cottage

A few weeks ago, I joined a large portion of the wine world that descended on Wellington, New Zealand for Pinot Noir NZ 2013. Held every three years, the four day symposium featured lectures, tastings and seminars, attracting leading winemakers, critics and consumers from around the world.

Wine Spectator critic Matt Kramer delivered an excellent and thought provoking keynote speech that has generated considerable attention. He attempted to answer the question, “Can Atheists Make Great Pinot Noir?” and in his usual eloquent and captivating manner, Matt laid out his ideas regarding how to make superlative pinot. Whether you agree with him or not, Matt made a convincing argument in support of his theories. And, as might be expected, Matt’s arguments provoked some rather spirited discussions and blog posts. To any pinot (or wine) enthusiast, I highly recommend Alder Yarrow’s transcript of Matt’s lecture.

A week after the New Zealand conference concluded, I found myself with a smaller group in Australia to attend the sixth biannual Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration. As I did, many of those in the audience had also come from the New Zealand conclave, including Ted Lemon, winemaker for Littorai as well as Central Otago’s Burn Cottage Vineyard. (more…)

Winery Highlight: Chris Ringland

Winery Highlight: Chris Ringland

Post by Chuck Hayward | February 9nd, 2012

Chris Ringland was surely not prepared for all of this. The popularity, the sudden attention. Working away at a rustic winery where time seemed not only to stand still but actually climbed backwards. He spent that time mentoring young winemakers as they learned the secrets of the Barossa Valley–its vineyards, its people, its history. The last thing he expected was an overflowing fax machine…100 point scores from Parker can do that.

Chris Ringland Surveys his Domain

Justifiably or not, Chris Ringland’s shiraz was catapulted into the global world of wine and things quickly got out of hand. Insane prices. Incessant phone calls. Lots of pot shots. All of this attention resulted in a wine that became bigger than the man and his vines; all thanks to a wine review. The problem is the score regrettably only reflected the wine in the glass. Where was the story? Who was this guy? Where was the information about his plot of dirt? (more…)

Not Just for Cork Dorks: The Penfolds Recorking Clinic

Not Just for Cork Dorks: The Penfolds Recorking Clinic

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 22nd, 2011

Australia’s Penfolds is known worldwide for their wines, especially the iconic shiraz-based Grange. Yet it is their unique service, the Penfolds Recorking Clinic, which sets the standard for what chief winemaker Peter Gago calls “service after the sale.” Given the prices of many wines these days, it is seems almost criminal that other wineries do not follow the lead of Penfolds in this regard.

Matt Lane, Penfolds Ambassador, attacks the cork on an old bottle

Developed by the winery some twenty years ago, the Penfolds Recorking Clinic was, until recently, only conducted in Australia. Administered annually in Sydney and Melbourne along with a rotating schedule between Adelaide and Brisbane, the Recorking Clinic now travels to other markets in Europe and America. This week, Penfolds is visiting Washington DC and New Orleans to provide a service that is performed by no other winery and, amazingly in this day and age, free of charge.

Witnessing a Recorking Clinic, especially in Australia, can be quite emotional. Given the reverence for Penfolds there, many families have tucked away a stash of old wines somewhere in their homes. As consumers bring their wines before the winemakers, the tension and nervousness on their faces are palpable. It’s as if they are bringing loved ones to a doctor’s office, anxiously awaiting the diagnosis. (more…)

Regional Spotlight: Tasmania

Regional Spotlight: Tasmania

Post by Chuck Hayward | January 19th, 2011

Tasmania has a hold on many people, enthralling them with its controversial history as a prison island or mesmerizing them with its lush foliage, numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites, the endangered Tasmanian devil and a burgeoning wine industry. With some 90 wineries scattered across the island, the Tasmanian wine industry only produces 0.5% of all the wine made in Australia. However, the small output from the “island of inspiration” has captured the interest of wine enthusiasts worldwide.

Frogmore Creek in Tasmania

Home to nearly 175 producers and 250 vineyards which comprise almost 4000 acres, grapes were first grown near Hobart in the 1820s. (Cuttings from those vineyards were later taken to Sydney and Melbourne to establish viticulture there.) While there were a few plantings by Italian immigrants in the 1950s, modern winemaking really began in 1973 when Andrew Pirie, Australia’s first PhD in viticulture, founded Pipers Brook Vineyard in the northern portion of the island. Meanwhile, the wine industry has grown rapidly over the past forty years, and winemakers look towards Tassie as a source of pinot noir and aromatic varieties like riesling and pinot gris. Nevertheless, most of the island’s  pinot noir and chardonnay are used for sparkling wine that is destined for thirsty Australians on the mainland. (more…)

Australia’s Independent Wine Shops

Australia’s independent wine shops: Educating locals and tourists alike

Post by Chuck Hayward | October 8th, 2010

Wine enthusiasts often seem drawn to browse through wine stores on their travels, as if they were answering a magnet’s pull. They do this partly out of curiosity, as visiting a wine store in another country reveals a bit about their wine culture, and partly for comparative purposes.

 

Front of Prince Wine Store

 

Of course, there is the ever-present desire to uncover an amazing bargain or to nab that rare bottle. For me, wine stores represent ground zero in my effort to discern new trends and discover new wineries. So it should come as no surprise that I headed to a few shops on this recent visit.

Melbourne’s Prince Wine Store is at the forefront of showcasing imported wines and promoting new winemaking projects from up-and-coming winemakers in Victoria. This large store has a contemporary look and a very strong selection of Australian wines, as well as imports, including quite a few from California and Oregon.

 

Emily Laughton at Jasper Hill tasting

 

The interior is dominated by a large room with glass walls dubbed “The Cube,” where tastings and wine classes are held. In fact, it was a tasting of new releases with Jasper Hill winemakers Ron and Emily Laughton that brought us there. Ron is one of the leaders in Australia’s growing biodynamic movement and producers of cult-level shiraz from Victoria’s Heathcote region. The wines highlighted the intense yet elegant fruit that comes from Ron’s site. (more…)

Realizing What Rockford Is All About

Realizing What Rockford Is All About

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 8th, 2010

the press in Rockford "Basket Press" Shiraz

When I first began to promote boutique estates from Australia, I asked around to see which wines I just had to try: iconic wines that were rare and hard to find.

The name that came up repeatedly was the Rockford “Basket Press” Shiraz. At that point, it had never been sold in the US and only a few bottles had even been brought to our shores. It was almost ten years later when the Grateful Palate arranged to import the wines that I had the first chance to try a bottle. After all the hype and the decade-long wait, I tried some. And in my then-Aussie-wine-infancy, I didn’t get it.

one of those old pumps still in use

Rockford was founded by Robert O’Callaghan in 1984, during a dark period in the Barossa Valley, when century-old shiraz and grenache vines, which, due to lack of demand, were being ripped out and replaced with chardonnay under a government scheme. O’Callaghan had left the Barossa’s famed Seppelts winery to start a new project dedicated to preserving what was rapidly becoming the lost heritage of the valley–the traditions of winemaking and grape growing threatened by modernization.

His winery was founded in a rough-hewn building constructed by Johann Henschke almost a century ago. With no real money to start a new venture, he got by with old machines being discarded by other wineries as they purchased new equipment. The pumps, presses, and tanks might look like they belong in museums, but they are still in use today.

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Welcome Home

Welcome Home!

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 1st, 2010

Over the past 15 years, I have probably visited Australia 25 times. The purpose of almost every trip has been to visit wineries or attend wine conferences or tastings. As things happen in the wine business, you get to know a few people over the years. Nowadays, visiting Australia is becoming less about the business of the wine industry and more about catching up with friends.

The wine business is very special due to its convivial nature. It provides folks with a unique window into a country’s culture. You learn about the politics and history. You essentially have your own tourist guide as the locals tell you where to find the best coffee or croissants. I can’t count the times where I have been invited to homes, some mornings eating eggs I gathered from the chicken coop after a brisk morning walk. So when planning my first day back to Oz, I thought nothing would be better than organizing a dinner with friends in the business and getting sucked into some good food and trying some new wines.

 

the infamous Ying Chow

 

And in Adelaide, the only place to have this feast is Ying Chow. More incredible wines from Australia, I dare say from anywhere in the world, have probably been poured at the tables of this venerable Chinese restaurant than at any other restaurant in the country. Located near the city’s produce market, it has seen numerous lunches and dinners hosted by winemakers, wine writers or average folks taking advantage of the restaurant’s BYOB/no corkage policy.  (more…)

Chuck Is Off to Oz!

My Upcoming Journey to Australia

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 26th, 2010

Just like JJ Buckley’s recent trip to Bordeaux, my upcoming journey to Australia is to gather more information about the wines there. Nothing beats traveling and talking firsthand with winemakers, sommeliers, and writers to learn more about the many facets of a country’s wine business. Previous trips have been instrumental in boosting my understanding of Australia’s wine regions and the industry’s history, along with discerning future trends. As a bonus, it’s also pretty fun.

 

 

Trips to a wine region often have contextual issues which frame a visit. Many visits are educational in scope (i.e. to learn more about soils or winemaking), and for the most part, information travels both directions. In many cases, meeting winery owners or government officials leads to conversations about wine trends in America and/or ideas about improving business. Given the current state of Australian wines in today’s American market, I imagine there will be a lot of talking and listening on this visit.

So, what is happening with Australian wine today and what can I expect to find? (more…)