Wine Lab: Wines of Australia Uncorked

“Always Remember You’re Unique. Just Like Everyone Else” – Yes, you are special. Just like every other person on the planet." ~ Unknown

Here we are in March, and it's time for another installment of Wine Lab. Seeing this is a 'lab,' not every wine will show as well as you'd hope, so be prepared as some of the reviews below are extremely blunt. As I've mentioned before, I'm currently enrolled in viticulture and enology program at the Southern Oregon Wine Institute. Part of the curriculum is geared toward exposing students, many of whom have scant knowledge about imported wines, to the broader wine world. I believe it's an excellent way to give perspective, via immersion into those regions many have only heard of before.

Part of the class involves the writing of a tasting note about the wines presented, in what I consider a rather perfunctory style, notes which are not in my typical inimitable tone and tenor found on my blog. That said I hope you'll enjoy this edition of wine lab, there is much more to arrive over the next month or so. Today's wine review features the wines of Australia, five out of the six were mostly 'meh' and one, the Grenache was uber disappointing with only one bottle receiving the coveted 'thumbs-up' recommendation, and only four of six have been reviewed.

For me, honestly, Australia is still an unread book. There's so much to it, so many layers to uncover, I've yet to take the time to see and taste it for all that it could be. That said, the wines I've sampled to date have been mostly unimpressive, and in truth, they paint a pretty unflattering picture of this new world wine region.

Sadly, none of the wines from our last lab changed my mind, nor did it pique my interest to explore the region further. The whole screw cap thing, and the fact that far too many [not all] of the wines currently available in the export market are fat, flabby and unappealing. My general impression.

I've read about many Australian wines which are supposed to be all that and a bag of chips, showing restraint and finesse while bristling with muscle, but to date, I've encountered few. Perhaps one day, there will be an opportunity to taste a larger sample size, so that I may get a better picture of the Austrailian wine scene. In the past ten years of attending a variety of wine tastings, I have yet to see or be invited by teams from the WOA hosting tastings in the U.S. market, something so many other wine producing regions do. I just did a quick Google search; it would seem WOA has far more interest in their UK and Chinese markets, perhaps the U.S. export market is not as strong as it used to be, or it never has been.

2008 Clarendon Hills Grenache, Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale: In the glass, this wine appeared deep in color depth and intensity. The color was red to ruby depending on the angle it was viewed; clarity wise it was opaque. The aromatics were plentiful but were less than pleasant, raisins, pirate rum, wet leather and cheap brandy bound up from the glass, more subtle, and nearly forgotten notes of fig, cherry, and chocolate played an old dirge in the background. A brief hint of Brettanomyces swirled about, but spoilage yeast was unlikely the blame for this wines demise or was it?

The overall taste was dry; the acidity was more sour than balanced. The body was a medium plus, and the tannins were a moderate plus. As for the flavor descriptors, mint, odd and ends spices gathered from an old trailer park, leftover lunch meat, chocolate covered dime-store cherries and thick tar. The finish was a medium minus. As a fan of 'aged' wine, this wine with so much possible potential to be a stunner, but it, unfortunately, fell flat on its face. It may also be worth noting this was the only wine with an actual cork and not the typical screw cap closure.

Penfolds 2012 Bin 311 Chardonnay, Tumbarumba: In the glass, the wine is light in appearance, thinly veiled straw color and clarity wise it was clear. This wine bottled under a screw cap gave off some reductive notes, unexpected petrol note, white melon rinds, lemon peels and undefined citrus aromas. The aromas were reminiscent of the champagne blending trial seminar at Veuve Cliquot in 2013; this outcome was completely unexpected. Onto the taste category, the wine was exceedingly dry; the acidity was more sour than crisp. 

The body was a medium minus, and the tannins were a moderate minus. The flavor descriptors exceedingly crisp, and bracing. Other flavors, under-ripe granny smith apples, lemon-grass, tart citrus, and sharply acidic feta cheese. The finish was abrupt and short. To be honest, there was no joy here, nothing but raw unabridged malic acid; as apparently this wine was a stylistic choice by the producer. There was no secondary fermentation, leaving the wine relatively unpalatable. Odd choices indeed for more expensive wine than the average Chardonnay. Riesling, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon blanc are far better candidates for this style of winemaking.


Jacob's Creek Centenary Hill Shiraz 2008, Barossa Valley, Australia: By far the champion of the evening's tasting, sporting a deep red appearance in the glass and a slick bricking on the rim; looking down through the glass this wine was opaque. The aromas were bouncing joyfully from the glass, mint, dark plums, blackberries, freshly kicked-over earth, eucalyptus, sweet tobacco, and cedar. The overall taste was dry but balanced. The body was medium; the tannins were a medium plus. Flavor descriptors, toast, dark plums, vanilla, tobacco, spices, blackberry jam and a medium plus finish. It would have been awesome if this wine had been decanted to unlock its flavors and aromas, allowing some of the jammy elements to blow off. My score 87 points, recommended. 

Penfolds NV Club Reserve Tawny Port: The overall impression of this Grenache– Syrah–Mourvedre blend is that one, the spirits added eclipsed the other flavors and aromas. Second, this may be a quibble, but those varieties do not lend themselves all too well for producing a true 'tawny.' Laying that aside, the intensity of the wine in the glass was a medium plus, a gorgeous amber core, to a burnt orange rim and clarity wise, it was clear. 

This wine like many Tawny Ports was a bouquet of sweet aromatics, with ripe figs, gingerbread, baked raisins, and vanilla ice cream with hot toffee poured over it. Onto the taste, it was sweet, nearly maple syrup with a shot of brandy. On the acidity scale, it was low, leaning toward flabby. The body was a medium plus, and the tannins were a moderate minus. The flavor descriptors, honey, maple syrup on a stack of IHOP pancakes, ripe figs, raisins, cinnamon, caramel, toffee treats, and butterscotch. This TP was a bit hot, the spirits added IMO exceeding its intended purpose. The finish was long and lasting. 

The story of Penfolds and its parent company South Corp has a long and varied history extending back to the earliest days of the island continent, settled by explorers, criminals and other misfits from the expanding British Empire. It all started back in 1844 by one Doctor Penfold who purchased what amounts to 500 acres of prime vineland for what amounts to a mere pittance today. The good doctor's only intention was to produce medicinal wines; this short-lived ambition was soon to be eclipsed by the wine trades need for meeting the demand for wine back in the UK.

Penfolds soon became known as a significant player on the Australian wine scene, known for their iconic bin series of wines, both Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon became their signature grape, with the mighty "Grange" achieving both fame and wide-reaching acclaim catapulting their brand to 'cult' status in the wine world. Penfolds also embraced Australian winemaking penchant for blending, not just different wine-grape blending, but region blending.

Fast forward many years, sadly, Penfolds has been sold out to a conglomeration, Treasury Wine Estates; this is when the soul of the company was ripped from the heart of this once proud winemaking colossus, reducing it to a mere echo of its former glory. The husk of this once great producer remains though and is producing wines under the same label, sourcing grapes from its 220 different holdings. Not only is this a belief held about Penfolds; it is also a belief held about every great brand created and then sold like a piece of old equipment.

People will often say the same about timeless musicians, do not only look at what they are now in their present fame but instead look at what made them a legend. Penfolds is a common household name for wine enthusiasts, and it is as familiar as popcorn at the movie theatre. It is a prolific brand, which can still command high prices and a devoted following among readers of wine speculator and other similar glossy ad-driven publications.


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