Monday 30 March 2009



david ellis

ONE of the oldest working wineries in Australia, and certainly amongst the most interesting to visit, is Oakvale at Pokolbin in the shadow of the Hunter Valley's famous Brokenback Range.

First planted to grapes by an industrious expatriate Scottish coal miner, William Elliott in 1893 the former dairy farm has been owned by just three families over the past 116 years, current owner Richard Owens (who also owns the nearby Milbrovale vineyard at Broke-Fordwich) buying it in 1999.

Oakvale produces a range of wines that are mostly available only through Cellar Door or mail order, and one outstanding drop that should be a must-buy for Semillon buffs is the 2008 Gold Rock: wonderful lime citrus and slightly herbaceous characters dominate in a palate that has good acid balance and a long crisp finish, making it exceptional buying at $20.

It's worth a visit to the Hunter to taste the Oakvale range at the Cellar Door and enjoy country morning or afternoon teas and light luncheons at the coffee shop. And the kids will be fascinated with a replica old country store stocked with grocery items from a half century ago in William Elliott's original 1893 slab cottage, as well as the kid's playground.

And consider a night at their luxury country cottages to enjoy a bottle or two of the 2008 Gold Rock Semillon there with pan-fried white fish fillets; if you can't visit phone toll-free 1800 005 550 or order through

ONE FOR LUNCH:  2007 was one of the best vintages ever for Merlot in the Margaret River, with a warm Spring and consistent temperatures throughout the ripening period producing fruit with fine tannins, intense flavour and great colour. Evans & Tate have just released their Merlot from this vintage and its little wonder it's already sweeping up Trophies and Gold Medals: this very more-ish wine is full-bodied with berry fruit flavours and subtle cedar and spice, ideal at $22.99 to share with a lamb roast.

(Need a drink? We're archived on


[] A MUST-BUY Semillon from one of our oldest wineries

[] JUST the match with a lamb roast


Monday 23 March 2009



david ellis

WE've long sung the praises of Rosé as a companion to Asian dishes – particularly those with seafood at their heart – and a label we came upon for the first time only recently, exceeded our expectations in every regard.

It was Marlargo's McLaren Vale Cabernet Rosé, a brilliant-crimson wine with a temptress-look label that alone was enough to have us taking it off the shelf.

But it was winemaker Goe Di Fabio's skills that completed our enthusiasm after we'd grabbed our bottles: on opening, aromas of fresh-picked raspberries and black cherries burst out, while the dry-style on the palate was bounteous with fresh berry fruit flavours, black cherries and citrus.

A silky finish made this wine one to take to enthusiastically with a first course of coconut-crumbed prawns and a sweet chilli sauce, while the real match was with the mains: sushi-grade tuna wrapped in nori and deep fried in a light tempura batter, with an accompanying sweet soy reduction, avocado and raspberry sauce.

At $20, this one will have you going back for more.

ONE FOR LUNCH: FATHER and son winemaking team, Robert and James Lusby have come up with a ripper 2008 Pebbles Brief Chardonnay from their Tintilla Estate Vineyard in the Hunter Valley.

This gently-oaked wine has more-ish ripe-fruit flavours up front, followed by a mid-palate that's characteristically flinty with accompanying lime and stone fruit, and a clean finish.

At $26 share it with seafood salads, or if you're in a barbecue mood, partner it with seared tuna accompanied by potatoes wrapped in foil with a splash of olive oil and a dab of garlic, and cooked over the coals.   






Sunday 15 March 2009



david ellis

THERE are few things in life that we buy with absolutely no intention of enjoying for years – in some cases anything up to a decade or more – but good red wine is one of them.

And if you've a milestone family or other event coming up in the next ten or fifteen years, take a tip and stock up now on a few bottles of the just-released 2006 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz.

This wine, whose own birth created something of a milestone when it came into this world a half century ago from the 1959 vintage, has long been a showcase Aussie Shiraz, and this latest 2006 delivers the classic Bin 28 style to perfection: it is huge on generous spice, dark licorice and chocolate flavours, and there's lovely fruity cranberry acidity and good solid tannins.

Originally 100-per cent Barossa Valley, today's Bin 28 is a multi-region blend, with the Barossa continuing to make up a substantial part of the blend.

Priced at $33.99 a bottle its good buying by the case for that particular milestone in the next ten to fifteen years… and if you are tempted to whip a bottle from the case now just to see how good it is, put it on the table with a hearty Beef Wellington and early-cropping cool-season vegies.

ONE FOR LUNCH:  WINEMAKER Dr Phil Spillman jokes that with the fruity lime, pineapple, quince and custard apple flavours in his 2008 inaugural Deakin Estate Viognier, you should put on an Hawaiian shirt just to drink it.

We're not sure about the shirt, but he's right about this wine that was made without oak, so letting its full-on tropical fruit flavours come to the fore. At just $10 buy a few and create your own "Hawaiian luau" – mix a cup of pineapple juice with a 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 cloves garlic and a teaspoon of fresh ginger, and marinate chicken thighs in this for 30 minutes before cooking on the barbie. And, yes, if you must, put on that shirt.  


Photo captions:
[] FIFTY years a showcase Aussie Shiraz

[] YOU'll need an Hawaiian shirt to share this one at a barbie

Monday 9 March 2009



david ellis

IF Westend Estate's 2007 Richland Shiraz was a beer, you'd be putting it into the biggest glass you could find and quaffing it in great swallows while the steaks cooked on the barbie.

But it's a wine, so you've got to take it in smaller glasses and not throw it down with gusto.

Which is easier said than done, because this Shiraz from the Riverina's masterful Bill Calabria is huge on varietal black plum, red currant and spicy pepper flavours, and slips down the throat with a velvety smoothness.

And remarkably it's priced at just $11.99 so you can enjoy a few now with family or friends around that barbecue, and put a few aside for later when it's gained a bit more complexity with a couple of years aging.

Enjoy with beef fillet off the BBQ plate accompanied with some lightly cooked mushrooms infused with a touch of garlic, and a good dollop of polenta.

And here's a tip: if it's a particularly warm day, pop the bottle in the fridge for 30 minutes before opening to take a bit of heat off the glass; it'll make it all the more enjoyable – as it won't be cold, but it won't be too warm either.

ONE FOR LUNCH: The Hunter Valley's Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard has been selling a damn good Tempranillo at cellar-door-only for some years now, and finally it's released its first of this varietal under the Audrey Wilkinson label.

It's done so from the 2007 harvest that was one of the earliest and best in the Hunter's history, and thus suited this early-ripening Spanish varietal perfectly; the resultant wine has full-on black cherry and spice aromas, and lovely dark- berry fruit flavours with accompanying fine tannins.

At $19.99 how better to enjoy this Spanish beauty than with a hearty Paella?




[] JUST the drop with BBQ'd beef fillet, garlic infused mushrooms and polenta

[] TEMPTING Tempranillo: a Spanish beauty to enjoy with Paella

Saturday 7 March 2009

Tasmanian Pinot Quest

Recently converted Pinotphile, Roderick Eime, tags along with some of Australia's top wine writers in search of Tasmania's ultimate Pinot Noir. Looking past the flowery phrases, he lets his taste buds do the talking.

“Right now she's not even showing you so much as an ankle or hem,” announces winery manager Maria with a twinkle in her eye as she pours a lively drop of red, “but she's just starting to undress for you. Shortly you'll see some thigh and even her knickers.”

You could be forgiven for thinking that we witnessing some lewd peep show or voyueristic act, but no, it was celebrated Tasmanian winemaker, Peter Althaus's newest release. A little bit of air after opening the wine allows the flavours to blossom, or in this case, seduce. Such is the over-the-top turn of phrase applied to the simple joy of wine tasting.

Tasmanian wines, although a fraction of a per cent of the nation's output, are developing an international reputation for superior cold-climate vintages, particularly Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling. While these luscious concoctions attract the most pretentious and prosaic descriptions, the “acid test” is in the tasting.

“I just love the delicate structure and delayed gratification,” says Peter, a former schoolteacher with an uncanny, pedantic nose and a secret passion for date scones, “sensational!”. He is also a respected wine judge and prolific wine writer and author.

Althaus's wines are some of the few still being bottled exclusively under cork. 95 per cent of Tasmanian winemakers have gleefully converted to the Stelvin (screw) cap. “I don't care if I never see another cork,” says consulting winemaker, Andrew Hood, clearly recalling many heartbreaking events, “what goes in the bottle stays in the bottle.”

The value of screw caps is driven home at Claudio Radenti's Freycinet Vineyard. In an extraordinary act of generosity, he has dug deep into his museum to show us his 20-year-old Pinots. While the '90 and '91 are gorgeous, his face falls when opening the '88. “Don't spend too much time on that,” he laments. Clearly the cork has failed as a pungent, brown, milky liquid fills his glass.

Former diplomat and now restaurateur, author and wine writer, Graeme, pulls me quietly aside and whispers, “If it smells like wet hessian, that's cork taint. A dull brown colour means it's past its prime, oxidised, and the flavours have gone.”

Winetasting can be a daunting, even intimidating experience. When surrounded by such august company, all pontificating in gushing language, it's easy to be overwhelmed and start doubting your own perceptions.

Although I may not be able to translate the simple stimulation of my taste buds into vintner's poetry, I am reassured that I can tell a good wine from a not-so-good one and even a great one from the ordinary.

“Controlled licentiousness!” blurts Ken, a former corporate lawyer, forthright with an admirable tolerance for Riesling and a palpable disdain for Sauvignon Blanc, “it's this sort of language that puts people off wine.” He looks scornfully at the rear label shaking his head, “A female winemaker, I might have known!”

There's a lot of private jokes and knowing glances among this elite cult of the grape. Cheerfully though, no-one is allowed to get too pompous as they're quickly pruned back to shape by their peers. But their combined experience and generosity of spirit allows me to accumulate years of knowledge in just a few scant days.

I confirm that, regardless of age, pedigree or 'Gewurzness', I can't get excited about Riesling. Pinot Gris is my preferred white and I'm now a minor expert on Pinot Noir, far and away my favourite varietal.

The climate, soil and topgraphy of Tasmania makes it one of the few places in the world ideal for the cultivation of this grape, known in other parts of the world as Red Burgundy. New Zealand's South Island is another.

Next time you're at that fancy restaurant, sniffing corks, swilling, slurping and analysing that mid-palate fruit, just remember first impressions always count - and your impressions are more important than any stuck-up sommelier. As a famous wine master once wrote, "Great Burgundy smells of shit!"

Will the real Pinot Noir please stand out.

Telling a top Pinot is not as hard as it is for the winemaker to bottle it. The so-called “hearbreak grape” is a challenge for growers and is notoriously fickle, depending heavily on weather and conditions both during its growth cycle and at harvest. Here are some tips to spot your top drop.

* Open, air and decant your Pinot for up to an hour prior to tasting.
* Use a big glass for maximum aeration so you can really smell the flavours.
* You can be more confident about a wine under screw cap although younger wines may taste better under cork.
* Don't confuse with Shiraz. It's a subtle, delicate flavour.
* Look for smoothness of flavour. Better wines are silky and better still, velvety.
* Flavours should persist and linger.
* Herbal, vegetable or leafy smells and flavours indicate a “green” or unripe fruit. Not good.
* Cellar as any other wine. Screw caps can lay down or stand up.
* Look out for Tasmanian 2005 vintage, although '06, '07, and '08 are good too.

Pick of the bunch.

Taste is a very personal thing. Here are the experts' picks for top Tassie Pinots.

Ken: Clemens Hill 2005 Reserve. “Wonderful character and depth of flavour. Cellar potential.” RRP: $35.00

Peter: Domian A 2005. “Gorgeous with good varietal character. Tight, structured, plump and fleshy.” RRP: $75.00

Sally: Freycinet 2005. “Everything a great Pinot should be. Bright, clear raspberry fruit. Supple.” RRP: $55.00

Christine: Home Hill 2005. “Voluptuous and fruity” RRP:

Graeme: Bream Creek 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir. "Complex game and forest characters, seductively rich, concentrated and velvety." RRP: $35.00

My Favourites: Stefano Lubiana and Bay of Fires were great, but the real surprise package was from the little d'meure winery south of Hobart. Their 2005 (RRP: $75) was perfect.


Wine Industry Tasmania || Tasting Tasmania || Tourism Tasmania || 2009 Tasmanian Wine Show Results

Thursday 5 March 2009



david ellis

YOU'd be hard-pressed – to excuse the pun – to find a Riesling at $20 that's better value than Koonowla's 2008 from South Australia's Clare Valley.

And interestingly it came not from a perfect vintage, but one hammered by heat and drought until a welcome last-minute drop in temperature just as the fruit had reached its optimum varietal character, and just-right for harvesting.

Koonowla's owners, Andrew and Booie Michael bought the former grain and wool farm in 1991 and planted it to grapes – as it had been from the 1890s until fire wiped out the property in 1926.

Seeking to get the best regional and varietal characters from their vineyard, the Michael's engaged respected winemakers David O'Leary and Nick Walker to weave their magic, and the 2008 has rewarded them well in this regard.

This is a Riesling up there with the classics, loaded with zesty citrus flavours and an acid finish, and an eruption of beautiful floral, lime and spice aromas when you give it a swirl in the glass.

At $20 don't look past it to make a sensation of an Autumn lunch of pan-fried flounder and salad, or with some crabmeat patties hot off the barbecue plate.

ONE FOR LUNCH: Sydney-siders, or visitors to the Harbour City this month, should shout themselves lunch or dinner at any of fifty or so of the city's top restaurants that are featuring menus designed to celebrate NSW Wine Week.

Chefs at these establishments have created menus with dishes specifically designed to match wines from the State's fourteen wine regions; the "Dine With NSW Wine" menus offer a lunch or dinner throughout March for under $50 per person, with a glass of premium NSW red or white included. For details of participating restaurants go to




[] CLASSIC Riesling from an imperfect vintage

[] CELEBRATING the joys of NSW Wine Week