New release from Australia
by Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar, July 2011
There's no sugar-coating the fact that Australian wines have been struggling in the U.S. market. That point was driven home to me last year and again this spring and summer when the number of new Aussie releases available here seemed like a trickle compared to the tidal wave of the early 2000s. All of the importers I spoke to over the last few months told me that they have been making their buying decisions very carefully for fear of re-creating the inventory logjam that they are only now escaping.
What's ironic is that while the American fine wine-buying market was busy rejecting Australian wines out of hand as too big, too ripe and just too much, the best American importers were quietly bringing in Australian wines that were anything but that. Those wines, mostly from small producers who grow their own grapes, usually have serious worldwide followings, not to mention a rabid coterie of local fans who'll grab any bottles that aren't spoken for. The smaller producers make far less wine than they can sell but, fortunately, they tend to take a longer view of the wine market rather than grabbing for the fastest dollar, pound or yen.
Yankee winos who have had their palates assaulted too many times by outsized, over-the-top, excessively alcoholic Aussie wines have decided to avoid the category outright, and they're usually pretty vocal about it. But they often don't know what they're shunning until it's sitting in a glass in front of them. If I had a dime for every time I've poured a bracing Clare Valley riesling, Yarra pinot noir, Margaret River cabernet or Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc for somebody who responded with "you mean that's from Australia?," I'd be able to afford a few cases of Mollydooker.
The 2008 and 2009 vintages presented Australia's growers with myriad climatic and circumstantial problems, including some humongous fires, which kept production down pretty much countrywide. More than a few producers and importers I spoke to this year said, ruefully, that if you have to have a low-demand market it's good not to have much supply, and vice-versa. 2010, on the other hand, looks quite solid across the continent, with an emphasis on clarity and energy for both red and white wines from most regions.
Producers and importers have held prices steady or even rolled them back for all but the bluest of the blue chip Australian wines, and tariffs for many outstanding wines have really come down in the last couple of years.
Fortunately, many of the top Australian producers and their American importers have stuck with the U.S. market and are looking beyond the current malaise rather than turning back toward an adoring domestic market. It gives a sobering perspective to look at prices commanded for many wines in Sydney or Melbourne and then compare them to retail tariffs here in the U.S.
As all of the American importers I talk with regularly tell me, the good guys are fully committed to the huge American market, and they realize that while this is a tough environment right now, quality will out.
2010 Two Hands Wines Riesling The Wolf Clare Valley
Greenish straw. Bright, mineral-driven aromas of lime, lemongrass and green apple, with an energetic floral note. Crisp and precise, with nervy citrus and melon flavors showing impressive power and depth. This refreshing, tightly focused riesling opens up nicely with air and should put on weight over the coming years.
2009 Two Hands Wines Grenache Yesterday's Hero Barossa Valley
($47) Bright ruby. Complex scents of red berries, floral pastilles and Asian spices. Textbook grenache, with ripe raspberry, rose pastille and white pepper flavors lifted by zesty minerality. Open-knit and plump but refreshing, with strong finishing cut to its sexy floral and red berry flavors.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz/Grenache/Mataro Brave Faces Barossa Valley
($48) (a 65/25/10 blend of the three varieties): Dark ruby. Pungent, herb-accented bouquet of blackberry, cherry compote, licorice and dried flowers. Sappy dark berry flavors show intense spiciness and pick up a subtle smoky quality with air. Showing plenty of complexity now but this wine's taut spine of acidity bodes well for cellaring.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Angels Share McLaren Vale
($37) Opaque purple. Vibrant dark berry scents are complicated by smoky bacon, licorice and black pepper; showing a classic shiraz personality. Fleshy blackcurrant and boysenberry flavors pick up lavender and anise with air, along with an appealing sweetness. Fine-grained tannins come up on the finish but are absorbed by the deep, bright fruit. This wine is made from lots that missed the cut for the Lily's Garden bottling.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Gnarly Dudes Barossa Valley
($37) Glass-staining purple. Rich blackberry and blueberry compote, mocha and licorice on the nose, along with a hint of dried violet. Fleshy and large-scaled but with surprising vivacity to the flavors of dark berries, mocha and floral pastilles. A lush, textbook Australian shiraz that finishes long and juicy, with echoing florality. This is made from the same sources as the Bella's Garden.
2009 Two Hands Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Sexy Beast McLaren Vale
($45) Inky purple. Highly aromatic nose displays black raspberry, blueberry, licorice and pipe tobacco. Very intense and penetrating, with a medicinal quality to its primary flavors of dark berries, licorice and graphite. In a powerful style, showing potent violet and spice character on the long, sappy finish. This saw no new oak.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Samantha's Garden Clare Valley
($65) Deep ruby. Sexy, oak-spiced aromas of blackberry, candied plum and cola. Broad and lush, with sweet dark fruit compote flavors displaying impressive breadth and depth. Supple tannins provide support and the fruit takes on a brighter red berry tone on the finish, which clings with impressive authority.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Sophie's Garden Padthaway
($65) Opaque purple. Intensely perfumed bouquet of black and blue fruits, violet, mocha and Indian spices. Potent but fresh and focused, offering powerful dark berry and spice flavors and gaining sweetness with air. Nicely plays richness off brightness and finishes with excellent clarity and spicy persistence. This could be enjoyed now but has the balance to age.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Lily's Garden McLaren Vale
($65) Bright purple. Sexy aromas of boysenberry, cherry-vanilla and raspberry preserves, with spicecake and cracked pepper notes adding energy. Juicy, vibrant dark berry flavors show liqueur-like depth and very good back-end lift. Supple tannins make a late appearance on the finish, which clings with impressive tenacity. This is pliant and juicy enough to drink now but I'd bet on it being even better in a few years.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Max's Garden Heathcote
($65) Deep ruby. Wild, pungent aromas of red and dark berries, cherry pit, lavender and cured game, with spice and mineral qualities gaining power with air. Dense and smoky on the palate, slowly unfolding to offer rich raspberry, bitter cherry and sweet herbal flavors. Chewy tannins add grip to the lush, sweet finish, which strongly repeats the ripe cherry quality. The wildest of this year's Two Hands wines and a great match for grilled game or duck.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Bella's Garden Barossa
($65) Opaque violet. Powerful, almost candied aromas of boysenberry, mulberry and cherry-vanilla, with subtle hints of smoked meat and cola. Deeply concentrated, juicy black and blue fruit flavors show impressive palate-coating power. The very long, sweet finish features a strong blueberry quality, with velvety tannins sneaking in at the very end.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Coach House Block Barossa Valley
($121) Inky purple. Exotic, perfumed aromas of blackberry, boysenberry, roasted coffee and fruitcake. Open-knit, supple and juicy, with densely packed black and blue fruit, mocha and candied licorice flavors. The energetic finish shows surprising lift and a kiss of vanilla, with the boysenberry note echoing. I find this very approachable right now.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Barney's Block McLaren Vale
($121) Glass-staining purple. Exotically perfumed aromas of mulberry, black raspberry, dark chocolate, toasty oak spices and incense. Lush and broad, with palate-coating and surprisingly energetic red and dark berry compote and violet pastille flavors complicated by licorice and allspice. Shows unlikely poise and precision for such a rich wine, and has the balance to age.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Zippy's Block Barossa Valley
($121) Inky purple. Highly fragrant bouquet of candied cherry, cassis, violet and pipe tobacco, with a sexy overlay of smoky oak. Smells and tastes like there's some cabernet in here, with sweet red and dark berry and floral flavors and a touch of cracked pepper. At once rich and fresh, finishing with excellent thrust, clarity and persistence.
2009 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Windmill Block Barossa Valley
Opaque purple. Assertively perfumed aromas of cassis, violet, white pepper and apricot, complicated by musky spices and a sexy note of toasty oak. Ripe and velvety in texture but also elegant and well-balanced, with intense dark berry and spicecake flavors firmed by dusty tannins. Juicy and deep but there's surprising vivacity to this big boy. Finishes with excellent clarity and lingering notes of cassis and spice. This was raised in one-year old barrels.
2009 Two Hands Wines Grenache Aerope Barossa Valley
($135) Dark ruby. Fragrant and ripe, with potent raspberry preserve, cherry-vanilla and rose pastille aromas and a hint of Asian spices. Vibrant, deeply concentrated red berry and cherry flavors display impressive lift and drive. This has lovely vivacity for such a rich wine (15.4% alcohol), finishing with excellent clarity and spicy thrust.
2009 Two Hands Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Coach House Block Barossa Valley
($121) Vivid purple. Cassis, licorice pastille and cocoa powder on the nose. Dense, sweet and floral, offering broad, oak-spiced dark berry compote flavors and a touch of bitter cherry. Finishes with broad, ripe tannins and excellent length. Very sexy cabernet, with the depth to age but the seamless texture to allow for early drinking. This wine was raised in 100% new Taransaud barriques and clocks in at a lowish 13.8% alcohol.
2009 Two Hands Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Aphrodite Barossa Valley
($225) Bright purple. Captivating, exotic aromas of blackberry, boysenberry, lavender and smoky Indian spices. Sweet, broad and lush, with dense black and blue fruit character complicated by flowers and spicecake. Finishes on an intense floral note, with fine-grained tannins adding shape and grip. Offers plenty of early appeal but I'd bury this one in the cellar for at least another five years.
New release from Australia
by Josh Raynolds, Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, July 2007
At the risk of giving a creepy Groundhog Day vibe, I must say, yet again, that wine lovers whose view of Australia is based on limited personal experience and the uninformed opinions of others—and who think that this vast continent’s wines are all outsized, grotesquely alcoholic reds—are really missing out. Australia has more than 60 distinct wine regions and it continues to amaze me how many Americans seem to think that they are all suburbs of the Barossa Valley. Once again I implore readers whose preferences run to fruit-driven southern French, southern Italian and garnacha-based Spanish wines, as well as to zinfandels and the more opulent renditions of New World reds, to do some exploring. The same goes for fans of bone-dry riesling (check out western Australia), mineral-driven chardonnay (try any of the cooler regions and especially Mornington Peninsula) and even restrained, elegant pinot noir (made all over Victoria). Sauvignon blanc is also on a steep upward curve in Australia and pricing is usually much gentler than for similar quality from New Zealand.
The U.S. market enjoys unprecedented access to the very best wines Australia produces, by the way: many of the wines represented by the handful of American specialist importers are barely available on their home turf, except at top restaurants, via closed mailing lists or at auction. We are literally spoiled for choice, and it is depressing to watch supposedly adventurous winos refuse even to try the best Australian wines as they follow the herd to the usual watering holes—and pay steep tariffs to lap from those pools.
The vintages on offer. In contrast to 2005, 2006 featured one of the latest harvests on record in many regions. The spring was cool across the continent, with instances of frost occurring in the coolest regions, particularly the Adelaide Hills, and the summer was warm, with sporadic heat spikes. Western Australia was particularly cold during the onset of the growing season, causing a much slower buildup of sugar in the grapes than normal. The season progressed so slowly here that the harvest was up to a month later than usual. Most of Victoria also witnessed a very early harvest, up to three weeks earlier than normal. In the Barossa the growing season also began and progressed in promising fashion. A rainy winter set the stage for vigorous but well-paced vine activity and beneficial rains in February helped maintain the pace of ripening. A cold snap and relatively heavy rainfall at the end of March made for a cool conclusion to the season. This resulted in what some producers describe as a “normal” harvest with average to slightly below average yields. Others aver that vines that were not picked by early April (meaning those watched over by producers who look for maximum sugar levels and ultra-rich character) never fully ripened and often fell victim to assorted late-vintage diseases. Luckily for the McLaren Vale, which Michael Twelftree of Two Hands points out usually ripens up to three weeks ahead of the Barossa, their vines were picked during warm March weather, and the 2006 vintage looks to be outstanding.
Across Australia, 2005 has been hailed as one of the most uniformly excellent on record, drawing comparisons to 2002 and 2004 for its uniformly ripe but balanced and elegant wines, usually made from yields slightly lower than normal. In southeastern Australia, the McLaren Vale had a damp winter, setting the stage for rapid flowering and abundant canopy growth. The growing season was a bit cooler than normal, with an absence of heat spikes and a smooth ride into a pain-free harvest that occurred up to two weeks earlier than normal. The Adelaide Plains and Adelaide Foothills enjoyed similar conditions, overall, and the resulting wines are living up to their promise. The Barossa Valley took in a healthy crop of mostly high-acid, low- pH grapes under perfect harvest conditions following a smooth, relatively cool growing season, not unlike that of McLaren Vale. Coonawarra also enjoyed a warm, dry season and harvested under similar conditions, and most of Victoria profited from a summer of warm days and cool nights, with slightly above-average warmth, leading to a picture-perfect harvest. Vintages ’05 and ’06 provide further reason to investigate this vast category of wine that defies stereotyping.
I tasted the following wines in New York in May and June and will publish notes on many more Australian wines in the next issue of the IWC.
2007 Two Hands Wines Moscato Brilliant Disguise Barossa Valley 90
($19; for 500 ml.) Pale silver. Spicy orange, white peach, pear and quince on the nose, with a deeper suggestion of mango. Dry and crisp, but with a load of exotic and pit fruit flavors. This is quite firm compared to most Moscato d'Asti bottlings, perhaps because it was picked with 10 g/l of acidity. Finishes on a brisk, stony pear note, with excellent length.
2006 Two Hands Wines Grenache Yesterday's Hero Barossa Valley 91
($45) Bright red. Suave redcurrant and strawberry aromas, with deeper suggestions of cured meat and rose oil. Silky, sweet red berry flavors show a nice mix of brightness and depth, and a round, fleshy texture. Dusty tannins build on the finish, which features a zesty mineral tone and excellent length. The vines here are from 50 to 80 years old, according to owner Michael Twelftree.
2005 Two Hands Wines Grenache Aerope Barossa Valley 94
($100) Medium red. An exotic bouquet includes raspberry, candied cherry, sandalwood, vanilla and pungent herbs. Lush, creamy and sweet, with deeply concentrated red fruit and smoky herb flavors and deftly knit, silky tannins. Finishes on notes of pure red berries and red licorice, with outstanding persistence. Twelftree says that this wine represents his eight best barrels of grenache, from vines ranging from 50 to 80 years of age, and is their stab at "a luxury Chateauneuf."
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Bad Impersonator Single Vineyard Barossa Valley 90
($45) Dark ruby. Smoky, graphite-accented blackberry and cassis aromas, with suave toasty oak adding complexity. Broad, fleshy and sweet, with deep blueberry and plum flavors gently lifted by slow-mounting acidity. Gains brightness on the finish, which features impressive sweetness allied with subtle mineral tones.
2005 Two Hands Wines Nebbiolo Fool's Paradise Adelaide HIlls 90
($35) Medium red. Dusty strawberry, cherry and red plum aromas are brightened by zesty minerality and baking spices. Tart cherry and redcurrant flavors show a nervy quality, with fine-grained tannins and lip-smacking red berry skin tones on the back. Gains depth with air, displaying cola and rooty sassafras on the long, vibrant finish.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz/Grenache Brave Faces Barossa Valley 91
($35; a 65/35 blend) Bright ruby. Intensely floral nose offers spicy raspberry and strawberry preserve aromas underscored by zesty minerality. Deeper blue fruits on the palate, with subtle baking spice notes arriving on the back. Gains structure and focus with air, finishing on a bright, youthfully taut note of red berry skin, with noteworthy persistence.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Deer in Headlights Barossa Valley 91
($50) Opaque dark purple. Ripe, smoky raspberry and blackberry aromas are brightened by cinnamon, clove and violet. Lush, creamy dark berry preserve flavors betray no rough edges and pick up gently tannic notes on the long, juicy finish. Impressively balanced shiraz, with precise dark berry flavors and suave oak spices lingering.
2006 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Angels Share McLaren Vale 90
($30) Inky purple. Intensely perfumed nose offers vibrant dark berry and candied plum aromas, with an exotic twist of floral oils and baking spices. Broad and sweet in the mouth, with juicy blackberry and cassis flavors perked up by slow-building cinnamon and clove spiciness. Finishes with excellent precision and persistence.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Gnarly Dudes Barossa Valley 91
($30) Ruby-red. Energetic strawberry and raspberry scents are brightened by fresh mineral and floral qualities on the highly perfumed nose. This reminds me of a top-notch New World pinot, with impressively energetic red fruit flavors expanding across the palate. No excess weight here, and no rough edges either. Finishes suave, sweet and very long.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon The Bull and Bear Barossa Valley 90(+?)
($45; a 67/33 blend) Inky ruby. Smoky cherry and dark berry aromas are complicated by cured tobacco, mocha and bright minerality. A fresh, juicy midweight whose blackcurrant and plum flavors are nicely firmed by fine-grained tannins. This slowly expands on the finish with extensive aeration but seems a bit youthfully wound up right now.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Samantha's Garden Clare Valley 93
($60) Ruby-red. Exuberant strawberry and raspberry nose boasts wonderful clarity; notes of Asian spice and orange peel add complexity. Suave and silky in texture but also fresh and juicy, with explosive red berry flavors and tangy minerality. I barely noticed the tannins in this one. Deepens and expands on the long, spicy finish, where the fresh red fruit flavors are repeated. This is seriously delicious.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Max's Garden Heathcote 91(+?)
($60) Dark red. A melange of dark berry, ripe cherry, plum and underbrush notes on the nose, with accents of anise and tobacco. Firm, focused and deep cherry and dark berry flavors pick up aged beef and licorice qualities with air. Youthfully solid wine with a powerful, dense tone to the finish, which is a touch wound up today. "This is the one that needs the most time of the Garden wines," says Twelftree.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Harry & Edward's Garden Langhorne Creek 92
($60) Bright ruby. Spicy red and dark berry aromas complicated by cured tobacco, cedar and dark chocolate. Firm and juicy, with vibrant red fruit flavors and a zesty cracked pepper quality. The spice notes build through the long, energetic finish, which features repeating red berry and pepper elements. I really like the vivacity here.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Lily's Garden McLaren Vale 93
($60) Dark purple. Fresh red and dark berry aromas are accented by sexy floral and mineral nuances. This suave, silky midweight features luscious raspberry and blueberry flavors brightened by zesty minerality and firmed by youthful tannins. A subtle vanilla note come up on the finish, which features powerful red and blue fruit flavors, a velvety texture and excellent persistence.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Bella's Garden Barossa 94
($60) Opaque inky ruby. Powerful blue and black fruit aromas are complicated by pungent floral tones and cracked pepper. Resinous dark berry and plum flavors possess admirable depth and sweetness, with youthfully firm tannins adding support. Gains brightness with air, taking on raspberry and exotic orange zest qualities. Finishes with a lively berry skin flavor and outstanding persistence.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Sophie's Garden Padthaway 92
($60) Inky violet. Exotically perfumed nose combines vibrant red and dark berry aromas with smoked meat, graphite and dried flowers. On the palate, this strongly channels the northern Rhone, with juicy blackcurrant and cured meat flavors braced by zesty minerality. Gains in depth and sweetness on the back, where the mineral and meat qualities persist. Very complex stuff.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Zippy's Block Barossa Valley 94
($100) Glass-staining purple color. A huge, intensely perfumed bouquet expresses floral- and mineral-accented cassis, blueberry, plum and cherry, with a good dose of sexy oak (this saw 35% new French barriques Surprisingly fresh and energetic on the palate, with bright redcurrant, raspberry and blackcurrant flavors accented by Asian spices. Silky tannins give shape to this wine, which gains further in brightness on the long, spicy, raspberry-infused finish. Pretty dramatic stuff.
2005 Two Hands Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Aphrodite Barossa Valley 95
($150) Deep ruby. Explosive, captivating bouquet of kirsch, cassis, blackberry and plum compote lifted by fresh violet and rose. Full, fleshy and sweet but at the same time bright and minerally, with a vibrant quality to the dark berry flavors that reminded me of a big-time Napa cabernet. Picks up exotic vanilla, cola and baking spice notes on the expansive, ridiculously long finish, along with brighter red berry flavors and a delicate touch of white pepper. This pulls off the neat trick of perfectly balancing sweetness and vibrancy.
2005 Two Hands Wines Shiraz Ares Barossa Valley 95
($150) Inky violet. Outrageously scented nose combines pungent floral, spice and mineral tones with kirsch, blackcurrant and blueberry aromas. Surprisingly zesty in the mouth, with vibrant red, black and blue fruit flavors sharpened by peppery minerality and sweetened by hints of floral pastille and mocha. There's energy and cut here that reminded me of cabernet more than shiraz. The incisive finish features a dark berry skin tone and a bright jolt of cracked pepper. Can you call it a finish when it doesn't stop? Twelftree says that his goal here was to make a 15-to-20-year wine.
2006 Two Hands Wines Semillon For Love Or Money Cane Cut Barossa Valley (500 ml) 90
($60; for 500 ml.) Yellow-gold. Spicy peach, apricot and orange marmalade on the nose, with a complex array of floral notes adding interest. Pliant citrus and pit fruit flavors display impressive depth and sweetness but gain a lively quality with air. Finishes on a chewy citrus peel note, with excellent persistence.
2006 Two Hands Wines Fly By Nighters Vintage Port Barossa Valley (500 ml) 90
($30; for 500 ml.) Dark red. Smoky cherry and cassis on the nose, with bright minerality and floral oils adding complexity. Surprisingly vibrant, thanks to juicy blackberry and kirsch flavors framed by zesty acidity. Floral pastille notes build on the long, sweet finish. Very elegant port with no excess weight or heat. (Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, IL)