Come Anytime: Winos do 30 96-100pt Aussies at Craft LA

“There’s nothing new beneath the sun—We’ve butchered every sacred sow.
Don’t tell me about all the things you might have done—just tell me what you’re doing now, right now.
Come anytime—I’m a man of leisure.
Come anytime—I await your pleasure.”

Even though Pineapple Thief, Porcupine Tree, The Frames and John Foxx in various incarnations have been in heavy rotation at the Page household, I really needed an Australian band to express the effusive nature of Australian Shiraz (often too effusive) and while I love bands like The Church, The Everyones and the Go-Betweens, no one band better represents the often out of control, over the top nature of Aussie Shiraz than The Hoodoo Gurus.

This past Tuesday night, the Xpensive Winos got together at the private room of Craft for 30 Australian wines (27 shiraz, 3 muscats). Our master of ceremonies was Stephen Gelber who came up with the idea to drink only shirazes that scored between 96 and 100 points from TWA. Ultimately, there were a few wines that either were unscored or scored slightly below this range, but that was done either to complete flights or because our special guests thought that the particular wines would be appropriate. We approached this tasting with trepidation—many of started getting heavily into Aussies with the high TWA reviews of the 1998 vintage and have been disappointed after the wines aged.

Regardless of the wines, we expected excellent things out of Craft (which is essentially the commissary of CAA—it was nice to see men dressed in suits—likely Kiton suits, with Pink shirts, Hermes ties and Sulka shoes—at dinner in LA, even if they are agents). Stephen always does a great job when directing his dinners, but he really outdid himself with Craft (and obviously Craft deserves some of the praise)—the food was absurdly good, paired well with the wines, and the service was top notch.

Since it was a holiday week, not all of the Winos were in attendance and we had some special guests, most notably Dan Fredman, who had turned many of us onto a number of Aussies when he was at the Grateful Palate, and Mike Opdahl, late of Joshua Tree Imports. We also had Todd Serota, a big Aussie collector in the South Bay, Matt Velkes (who is not Australian) and Al Stewart, who was supposed to serenade all of us and was mumbling something about an apple cider reconstitution after tasting the wines.

All wines were served double blind, except to Stephen and IIRC Mike Opdahl. Let me make my biases clear. I bought a ton of Aussies because of TWA reviews. While I cannot say that there are not bottles that I enjoy after they have a few years on them, for the most part, I have been disappointed. Consequently, I have placed an embargo on further Aussie purchases. Further, if you cannot tolerate blueberry overtones and oak in your wines (yes, I’m talking about you, Bennett Traub), you might as well stay away from even the better of these wines. Also, no need to describe the color of these wines—they were consistently purple and opaque.

Flight One—I really thought that there were younger wines; for the most part, they had a freshness that I have not come to expect from older Aussies. I was very surprised to find out that most of these were 1996s.

Wine #1—super rich, over the top, a bit raisined on the palate and some heat on the finish. 1996 Clarendon Hills Astralis

Wine #2—sure this was rich, but it was very balanced and quite nice with a lengthy smooth finish. Would be happy to drink this any day. 1996 Rockford SVS Hoffman

Wine #3—overly candied, clipped and a bit bitter on the finish; didn’t seem to have great structure. 1996 Rockford Basket Press

Wine #4—is this really an Aussie Shiraz? A truly beautiful wine, rich but with perfect balance. If Manfred Krankl made Aussie Shiraz. Still seems to have a lot of life in it. Absolutely no heat—smooth as Kesslers. 1996 Greenock Creek Roenfeldt Road (which really surprised me as my one bottle, served at our 100 pt dinner two years ago, was not nearly as good, to put it mildly)

Wine #5—started all rich fruit and lumber, pretty simple and monolithic, but it continued to improve with additional time in the glass. 1996 Penfolds Grange

Wine #6—very clipped on the finish with a fair amount of heat; serious King of Shaves nose, a fair amount of VA with stewed fruit; reminded me of a certain Paso Robles producer. 1997 Classic McLaren La Testa

Wine #7—weird, bretty, not very pleasant. 1997 Veritas Heysen

Flight Two—I have had enough 1998s to know that most, if not all, of the wines in this flight were 1998s, which seemed to shed their sluttiness early on (and for me, with Aussies, slutty is a good thing)

Wine #1—not a fan at first, a bit disjointed, but started to come together in the glass; may either need more time or perhaps it will never get there. 1998 Penfolds Grange

Wine #2—brusque, thin, boring and clipped finish, with seriously faded fruit. 1998 d’Arenberg Dead Arm

Wine #3—corked. 1998 Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz (I had really wanted to try this blind, as a lot of people, although not our wine group, still sing this wine’s praises and I was hoping to get a gauge on it blind to see if I liked it any better).

Wine #4—extremely well put together, very solid, with balanced ripe fruit and great complexity. If it wasn’t for the Roenfeldt Road, this would have been WOTN. 1998 Kay Bros Block 6 (needless to say, I completely disagree with TWA reassessment of this wine, but if you want to unload any of yours a bottom feeder prices, please contact me).

Wine #5—a good wine, nothing overly memorable, but nice, if restrained fruit. 1998 Lengs & Cooter Reserve Shiraz

Wine #6—perhaps someone else will chime in on this one. I found this somewhat banal, but still drinkable. 1998 Branson Coach House

Wine #7—not a fan, bitter and thin. 1998 Best Thompson Family Reserve

Flight Three—this flight seemed all over the place

Wine #1—started uninspiring, but by the end of the night in my glass, it was actually very nice. 1999 Torbreck Run Righ

Wine #2—not great, IIRC it was flabby and generally not worth the liver damage. 1999 Noon Reserve Shiraz (I have mentioned this in the past, but no one Aussie winery has disappointed me as much and as consistently as Noon—got a ton of them from 1999-2002 and they are either rough young or overripe and then seem to fall apart when aged)

Wine #3—corked. 2001 d’Arenberg Dead Arm

Wine #4—this was a nice wine, one of the better bottles at the dinner; superripe, but not raisined and under control. This was one of the biggest shockers of the night. 2001 Marquis Philips Integrity

Wine #5—this one was very similar to Wine #4 and was equally good. Another shocker. 2001 Shirvington

Wine #6—I remember this as being not great, but otherwise it is a blank. 2002 E&E Black Pepper

Wine #7—another good wine, more focus on structure than fruit, almost restrained (well, relatively speaking). 2002 Amon Ra McLaren Vale

Wine #8—drinkable, would make a nice $20 wine (which I doubt it was); pretty simple and fruity. 2002 Kalleske Greenock

Wine #9—tons of VA. 2002 Beer Bros Old Vine

Flight Four—now, I was starting to get tired, so how about bringing out some super young, primal wines.

Wine #1—had someone been to Vandenberg or the Cape and copped some rocket fuel and bottled it. Too ripe fruit, lots of alcohol. Really kicked my ass. 2006 Amon Ra

Wine #2—too young, too primary, too ripe; who knows how this will go with age. 2005 Torbreck Laird (not yet released)

Wine #3—I found some potential here, but again, it was difficult to judge. 2006 Torbreck Run Rig (not yet released)

Wine #4—probably not as good as the Torbrecks, but better than the Sodium Azide (the Amon Ra). 2005 Binder Hanisch

Flight Five—three muscats. I am generally not a fan of Aussies Muscats or Tokay and I found two of the wines, the Dutschke and the Campbells Merchant Prince fine but not within my wheelhouse. However the second wine of this flight, the Ralph Fowler Rare Muscat was unbelievably good, with the sherry like overtones but keep in balance.

At the end of the night, I am probably still not a purchaser of Aussies unless I have already tasted the wine and liked it (just cannot trust the critics here), but I am beginning to lose my primal fear of them. Thanks for all for a great evening.

One ‘Kinky’ tasting. Well done.

Great notes, we have something similar planned in NY for January.

As for Noon, imported by Dan Philips, of the Grateful Palate, I concur. Complete disaster of a winery. I had a 1998 recently that flat out sucked.

Thanks for taking time to post this, even a reference to the Church- great band. I hope you guys called cabs.

The ratings were per TWA (original rating in the case where Parker re-evaluated them, such as the Kay Bros–prety much everyone’s runner up WOTN–which was downgraded from 98 pts to 88 pts). And yes, I took a cab as did a number of the other participants, but since I did a fair amount of spitting, I was in pretty decent shape.

Absolutely!!! Walter, Todd and I had no intention of even attempting to drive!! [oops.gif]

Marshall [wink.gif]

Too bad about the 98 Fox Creek Reserve. One of the few new wave Parker Aussies of the late 90’s that has actually held up.

I asked Matt Velkes to come on and post some impressions, as well.

I was looking forward to that one blind, as the last time we had an Aussie dinner (April 2007), it was not well received by our group and a few prior bottles had also been disappointing. And having it blind would have caused us to appraise it without reference to the label (as we did with the Integrity and the Shirvington, the two big shockers IMO).

Great notes Walter; It is nice to see your wonderfully eccentric writing style back in full bloom!

As the Wino with the least exposure to these wines…I have virtually no Australian wines in my cellar; I had the least “financial” interest in the outcome of this tasting. I had not invested any money nor cellar time in any of these wines. I was, however, extremely interested in the opportunity to taste them as my previous experience with these wines was not particularly good. Therefore, I entered this evening with relatively low expectations. As I have probably noted in the past, I am not a fan of the overripe, jammy, pruney, high alcohol style of wine which I believed this tasting would showcase. I also expected many of these wines to be completely over the hill.

Well in truth, many of these wines did fit the descriptions above, but…and this truly did surprise me, there were a few wines that I really did enjoy. Yes, a few of these wines were oaky, vanilla, raspberry out of balance monsters. However, others had matured into very attractive wines. I really enjoyed the following wines…especially with the beautiful matching job done by the staff at Craft. My favorite was the 1998 Kay Brothers Block 6, which I was told, was recently downgraded in score. In addition, my other favorites were the 1998 Branson Coach House, 2001 Shirvington, 2001 MP Integrity, and 2002 Amon Ra. Each of these seemed to avoid the raisined quality that I do not care for and instead featured ripe (not over) fruit and structure.

In addition, I also enjoyed the 1996 and 1998 Grange…one of the few Australian wines of which I have a modicum of experience. Both were extremely young and will greatly benefit from at least a decade of cellaring.

One last note on the beauties of blind tasting…in November of 2006, the Winos did a “100 point tasting.” One of the wines offered was the 1996 Greenock Creek “Roenfeldt Road.” Suffice it to say; It did not show “particularly well.” This past tuesday, it was one of my favorites and a strong contender for WOTN.

In conclusion, as wine drinkers, it is always a great evening when you learn something new or have your eyes opened in a blind tasting. This evening did not “convert” me to an Aussie fan but it did eliminate many of my preconceived prejudices. Thanks to Stephen for putting this together, Craft for their wonderful food and service and especially a big shout out to Dan Fredman and (skinny) Mike Opdahl for their very knowledgeable and completely non-biased comments. They called 'em as they saw 'em! [thankyou.gif]

Marshall [cheers.gif]

By the way, I had dinner with Al last night, so it was interesting to hear his take on the wines. He’s not the biggest fan of Aussie Shiraz, so his overall comment was that he couldn’t make much of a distinction between most of the wines on the table.


Actually, although Al does not drink many Australian wines, he has an excellent palate and made a few very salient comments about the wine. It was fun to hear the perspective of a confirmed Burg/Bordeaux nut! flirtysmile


I’m late to the party with posting thoughts on this tasting (one of the better Aussie-only tastings I’ve ever attended). Some brief & not-so-brief thoughts on the individual wines & flights:

1996 Clarendon Hills Astralis (RP 97). Amarone + rubbing alcohol. Not my favorite. This wine continues to disappoint. I’ve had this about 10x over the years & it has evolved from a monolithic monster, full of promise, to a verifiable mess----it isn’t getting any better. Neither is the '97 or '98 FWIW. I’m done buying Clarendon Hills—the grenache MUST be drunk right away, and it is a complete flip of the coin whether the shiraz will age. '01 & '03s tend to be undrinkable messes. '98, '02 & '04 are just ok. Thats it, ok. Along with Noon I think CH is the most over-rated winery in Oz.

1996 Rockford Shiraz SVS Hoffman (RP 98) This was a stunning wine. Silky smooth, with layers of fruit. Beautiful mouthfeel. First time I’ve ever had this. Neck & neck with the '96 GC Roenfeldt for my WOTN.

1996 Rockford Shiraz Basket Press (RP 94) Not a great bottle. Nice complexity but lacked the power of some of the other '96s.

1997 Classic McLaren Shiraz La Testa (RP 98) Lumber, VA & stewed prunes. Completely blown call on this by RP. This was a mess.

1996 Greenock Creek Shiraz Roennfeldt Road (RP 100) As good a bottle of this as I’ve ever had. Decanted for 8 hours, and could have gone 48—simply stunning & possibly the best 90’s era wine I’ve had from Oz.

1996 Penfolds Grange (RP 93) Not a good bottle. Decanted for 6 hours, but was fruit was clipped & very muted on both nose & finish. First bottle out of a 6 pack purchased domestically straight from the wholesaler. Not a good sign as EVERY bottle of the '96 I bought in Oz was much better, despite typical extremely crappy corks (I’ve yet to have a '88-96 Penfolds without a crappy cork—they ALL fall apart–Ah So is a must).

1997 Wendouree Shiraz-Mataro (NR) Corked. Again. Add Wendouree to my list of producers I’m no longer buying. My success ratio with '90s era Wendouree is about 20%. Their mid-90s wines suffer from massive TCA problems. And the ones that make it past the TCA lottery really aren’t that good. IMHO they are the Dunn wines of South Australia. In case anyone really cares, Jasper Hill is also on the do-not-purchase list for much the same reasons.

97 Veritas (now Rolf Binder) Heysen (RP 96) Just didn’t do it for me. Riddled with brett, and the fruit never shown thru.

Overall very cool flight, despite the problems with a few of the wines. The GC RR & the Rockford Hoffman are stunning wines. Good bottles of the Heysen, Rockford Basket Press & Grange can be extremely good as well–pity they weren’t tonight. Aside from the Wendouree, none of the wines were awful, and the overall arch of this flight was much, much more interesting (unfortunately) than the following flights.

1998 Penfolds Grange (RP 98+) Closed, monolithic…pity to open this—in 20 years it might be great (might not), but its impossible to see what it is about right now.

1998 D’Arenberg The Dead Arm (RP 94+) Looked thin & weedy. Massive disappointment.

1998 Fox Creek Shiraz Reserve (RP 96) Corked. Crap—I REALLY want to see what this is doing right now—my success rate on this wine is about 30% over the past few years, with some serious bottle variation accounting for 70 point scores 70% of the time, and 95+ the few times it “hit”. I only know of one person who is publicly defending this wine.

1998 Kay Bros. Block 6 (RP 98 or 88+?) Just beautiful. Evolving into a better wine than the '96, which for me has always been their benchmark. Would be interesting to see this against the Fox Creek Reserve for which one was WOTV in McLaren Vale.

1998 Lengs & Cooter Shiraz Reserve (RP 96) Eh. Certainly not a 96 point wine. Ordinary.
1998 Branson Coach House (RP 95) Overly hot & a bit stewy. Fading fruit bomb.

1998 Bests Shiraz Thompson Family Reserve (NR) Crap, I really wanted this to show well & it didn’t. Looked great 6 hours earlier when decanted, but faded & became hot & disjointed. Nose was cool----definitely a point of difference vs the SA wines, but the palate wasn’t there. Too bad–Thomson Family can be a great wine & is still one of the few undiscovered gems from Oz.

This flight was disappointing in a number of ways: first, the number of wines that were basically ordinary was surprising—I was expecting some serious Rock Stars to show themselves. They didn’t—whether that is b/c '98 as a vintage really isn’t that good (very possible), or that the post-Parker Aussie SA wines have just gotten so much better (more likely), this flight earned a big “so-what” from me. Aside from the Grange & the Kays, if you have '98s in your cellar I would suggest looking to drink them soon—they really don’t seem to be getting any better.

1999 Torbreck Run Rig (RP 97) One of my favorite of the Run Rigs. Wasn’t as flashy as usual, but extremely well made & starting to round out nicely. Has another 10 years to go.

1999 Noon Shiraz Reserve (RP 96) Just reinforced my decision 5-6 years ago to not buy Noons. I’ve honestly never had one I thought was great. Not one. And some, like the 97 Eclipse, are downright undrinkable.

2001 D’Arenberg The Dead Arm (RP 98) Corked. Crap—need an evolution update on this as had very high hopes on release.

2002 E&E Black Pepper (RP 92/WS 97) A so-what wine. Changed nothing in my opinion of BVE. On the verge of being flabby.

2002 Glaetzer Amon Ra (RP 95) Better than most of the others in this flight, but no real point of differential here.

2001 Marquis Philips Integrity (RP 99)
2001 Shirvington Shiraz (RP 98)
I give up. The wine geek in me wants to hate these, and other Sparky/Sarah wines. However I just can’t. They win, or place EXTREMELY high in every blind tasting—both old & new. These wines, based on everything I assumed to know about the alcohol %, the methodology, and the fruit profile on release led me to believe that these would be flabby stewy/alcoholic messes by now. They weren’t: they were graceful, possessed a fantastic soft mouthfeel, and while perhaps not the most complex wines I’ve ever enjoyed, definitely showed some welcome secondary characteristics. I loved both of them—the Integrity a bit more than the Shirvington, but only b/c the nose seemed a bit more complex. While I still have my doubts as to the ageability of most of the Mollydookers, and I still think that the majority of the bottles of '98 Fox Creek Reserve are a mess, there is no doubt that Sparky’s formula is a winning one.

2002 Kalleske Shiraz (RP 96) All of my assumptions of what Sparky’s wines might be came true here. What a disaster—8 hours earlier, pre-decant, this was awesome (as it was on release—just a monster blueberry milkshake with a Yorks Peppermint Patty finish). Now? Completely falling apart, searing alcohol, and disjointed fruit.

2002 Beer Brothers Old Vine (NR) Add a ridiculous amount of VA to the Kalleske & you get this wine. Another that on release, and pre-decant looked great, only to fall apart like an Egyptian mummy exposed to air.

The unwelcome (and noticed by the group trend) toward sameness that seemingly began with the '98s continued on en-force here. Almost all the wines, save the corked/VA samples looked & smelled virtually the same. Similar mouthfeel—just going for massive size while trying to keep the house from falling down. Some succeeded (Sparky); most failed (Kalleske/Noon). In some ways 2002-2004 was the high-water mark in the Parkerization of South Australia wines. They aren’t poorly made, or inherently flawed, but they do seem to be made to a specific formula or profile. They aren’t necessarily unpleasant to drink, and they all looked much, much better with food (except the Noon/Kalleske/Beer), but the tarrif and the renown which these wines carried certainly wasn’t/isn’t justified. Perhaps its the evolution of the wine making in Oz, but I believe that I could probably pull 1/2 a dozen < $30 2004-2006 vintage Aussie shiraz & have almost the identical experience.

Flight Four:
2006 Glaetzer Amon Ra (RP 97-100) I don’t know what barrel sample Jay Miller looked at, but this was an alcoholic mess. Searing acidity + 16% + alcohol + clipped fruit = an unpleasant experience. Pity, as most of the other vintages of Amon Ra have been in my personal wheelhouse & I thought '06 might be even better due to the dark fruit character that an awful lot of Barossa wines are showing on release.

2006 Torbreck Laird (NR) Didn’t get it. As Walt said just too primary. Not Les Amis levels of extraction & glycerin, but definitely heading in that direction. No idea why Powell wants to walk down this path.

2006 Torbreck Run Rig (NR) This might turn out great. Might not. Its big, has tremendous black fruit character, and still retains a bit of grace & balance. Don’t know that I’m willing to bet $200 on it given the state of the Aussie wine market though.

2006 Rolf Binder Hanisch (WA 98) I liked this more than most of the others did, but I always have liked Rolf’s wines. Decanted for 8 hours but could use 24. Not as massive as the Laird, nor as refined as the Run Rig. About what I expect for a <$100 bottle of 98 point Aussie wine.

While this flight was fun for experiences sake, it certainly is too early (in the wine’s evolution) and too late (coming at the end of 25+ wines) to properly evaluate where these are going, though they did spur a very interesting table discussion about where Aussie wines are heading & what the consumers are actually buying (lets just say that I expect the Aussie $50+ field to get ALOT smaller in the next few years—at least in the US—if the opinions at the table are any indication).

Ralph Fowler Old and Rare Muscat (RP 99) First time I’ve had this in almost 8 years. Better than I remember it. Wish I owned some—its simply fantastic.
Dutschke Tokay (or maybe it was the Muscat) Looked very, very good—the base material just isn’t as old as the Ralph Folwer or most of the Rutherglen stickies, but this really looked great—just didn’t have the serious secondary characteristics of the Folwer or the Campbells.

Campbells Merchant Prince (WA 95-99) Almost as good as the Fowler. Simply decadent. Shocked that the price tag on this as you can find the Dutschke for 1/2 the cost.

Loved the last flight & drained every glass. I wish these were more popular in the US (did drain 3 bottles with the family over Thanksgiving & Tokay goes GREAT with pumpkin pie).

Overall a very, very good evening. Though it may sound like I was a bit harsh on some of the wines (and deservedly so), overall the quality level was very high. '96 for me, represents the pinnacle of South Australia winemaking—the wines are nuanced, varied in their style & makeup, and have a backbone/structure that seems to be lacking in the supposedly great vintages since ('98, '02, 04…we’ll see on '05 & '08).

Little has changed in my love & appreciation for Aussie wines, though my purchasing enthusiasm is notably tempered–I’ll still buy Kays, Bests Thomson, Binder Hubris, some Greenock Creeks, etc year after year. I tend to buy in Oz, though b/c of the exchange rate the savings aren’t really there anymore, though I do find the provenance noticeably better. I hope that the collapse of the high-end Aussie market in the US has sent a message back to the Aussie point-chasers: points certainly aren’t enough to build a brand. I hope that some of these winemakers return to their roots & make wines based on their sense of place vs their need for a WA score. However, even if they were to do so, will it be enough to spur market demand for $50+ Aussie wines in the US market? Based on the quality available at <$20 from Oz, Spain & Argentina, I have my doubts. Then again, thats what China is for…if you believe the bar talk in Adelaide :wink:.

Mike–So far, I haven’t had either a corked Wendouree OR a corked Jasper Hill. In fact, every 97 JH Emily’s has been at least a “wow” wine.



Bring one next time we get together. I’m batting about 20-30% on Jasper Hill’s from '90-97 & have stopped buying b/c of massive bottle variation & cork problems.

Brilliant notes, Mike. As I remarked privately, I learned almost as much from reading your notes as from a decade of drinking Aussies. Given my collection, I only wish that both you and I were wrong.

Oh, but you are, just ask Parker.

Now if I only could convince my mediocre palate of that!