Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Once breakfast had been demolished the first priority for the day involved meal arrangements for the next couple of days. The briefing we’d received on arrival indicated supper requisites could be obtained from the highly rated Wild Saffron. 

We’d also been told that lunch at Skillogalee was a must do so once I’d succeeded in booking us in for lunch on Thursday it was a case of setting out to locate Wild Saffron to check the options for the next two days’ evening meals. 

Those looked like being lasagne (highly recommended by our host) or Thai beef salad.

After a quick conference we decided to head off on the tasting trail and return after lunch (I’d pencilled in at Salt ‘n’ Vines), pick up dinner supplies, drop them in Auburn and then head off on a loop through Polish Hill River and Mintaro. 

Remembering we’d be flying home, the game plan was to try as many wineries as possible, add our details to the mailing lists (preferably the electronic version) and place orders once we returned to base.

At Knappstein the Riesling was, predictably excellent. The surprise package was Three, a blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris which impressed Madam enough for her to invest in a bottle of the ‘05 from the bin ends special barrel. There’s also a brewery on the premises, so I tried the lager and promptly picked up a four pack, figuring I’d be able to knock those over some time over the next couple of days.

The second stop was Leasingham, which I’d planned to approach through the back streets until we heard much easier directions (turn left at the footy field). 

We arrived to find that the tasting options were limited to four - 2007 Riesling ($23), 2008 Individual Vineyard Release Watervale Riesling ($46, limited quantities, maximum of three bottles per person), 2006 Magnus Cabernet ($17) and 2006 Classic Clare Shiraz ($55).

While the wines on offer were limited in number, the quality was stellar.

We ended up staying in the Tasting Room longer than expected due to a wide-ranging conversation with the guy looking after the operation. Over forty minutes we covered everything from cellar construction and cellaring conditions to investment strategies in the current economic environment with side-tracks to cover each wine and a timely reference to the importance of taking notes when you’re going tasting.

Hughesy doesn’t get to wineries that often, so while the guy at the cellar door has a range of wineries within reach and the opportunity to develop a thorough note-taking system (I suspect a notebook rather than scribbled notes on whatever publicity material happens to be lying around the premises). 

I hadn’t quite progressed that far at this point in proceedings.

Following his suggestion, I tried to take notes at each of the places we visited. 

Looking back over the accumulated materials as I type, the records vary wildly and don’t always give an accurate summary of my reaction to the winery.

From here on, where there’s a lengthy discussion it means that I’d ended up with plenty of notes (I’m typing this a fortnight later from written notes compiled a day or two after we visited the winery in question). In other cases, I took notes which then somehow got lost in the shuffle between the tour and the write up in the journal.

That said, my notes from Leasingham suggest my favourite of the four was the Individual Vineyard Riesling.  Bin 7 Riesling is one I’ll be keeping my eye out for in bottle shops and restaurant wine lists, as is the Magnus Cabernet which is as good as you’re likely to find at this price point. 

I thought it represented excellent value for money.

Then, of course, there’s the 2006 Classic Clare Shiraz which made two wines in two days that we’d rated higher than the nameless, but quite pleasant hundred-plus dollar wine previously mentioned which we tend to use as a $100-plus benchmark. Up to this moment, the only other dry red in that price range we’ve been able to try was a Grange that’s just a little too good to be used as a punches above its weight benchmark.

Highly impressed as we left Leasingham and headed south in search of lunch. The next port of call was Kirrihill Wines, which houses Salt ‘n’ Vines, our preferred option though we hadn’t booked.

Kirrihill is owned by the same interests as a company that manages a hefty chunk (1300 hectares) of South Australia’s vineyards which would, one suspects, have certain advantages when it comes to sourcing quality grapes for your wines. 

The Cellar Door had an informative attendant, and we were her only customers for most of our stay, so we benefited from detailed information about the wines on offer. That was handy since there were three ranges available for tasting. 

The $15 Companions (blends of Clare Valley and Adelaide Hills fruit except for 2008 Clare Valley Rose), the $20-$25 Single Vineyard Series and $29 Kirrihill Estates 2004 Clare Valley Riesling, a five-star wine which appears in my notes with a single word (Buy) beside it. 

So we did. There was half a dozen waiting for us at the Post Office when we got home.

Of the Companions, the 2008 CV/AH Riesling Pinot Gris, 2006 CV/AH Cabernet Merlot and 2007 AH/CV Tempranillo Garnacha were particularly memorable, though everything on offer was much more than merely acceptable. At the price point, the Single Vineyard Series was outstanding with my preference going to 2008 Pinot Noir Rose Brut, 2008 Watervale Riesling and 2006 Clare Valley Baile An Gharrai Shiraz.

Having tasted close to the entire range, the prospect of a break over lunch had definite appeal, so we headed upstairs to Salt ‘n’ Vines. My Trio of Game Meats and Madam’s Smoked Atlantic Salmon would have gone down nicely with a glass of something other than water, but She was driving, and I was temporarily tasted out.

Which was an important consideration. 

I was particularly looking forward to our next stops in the Polish Hill River sub-region.

With lunch out of the way (and exceptionally delish it was), the plan was to backtrack to Wild Saffron, pick up something for dinner for the next two nights followed by a flying visit to base camp to put the tucker in the fridge before setting out to taste some more.

Arriving at Wild Saffron, the lasagne wasn’t available until after four and would feed four (which was probably two too many), so we opted for a couple of Thai beef salads from the fridge.

A few years ago our local bottle shop had discounted stocks of the Paulett Polish Hill River Riesling, most of which found their way to the Little House of Concrete. They had renewed my long-standing interest in Riesling, so I was looking forward to a visit and taste. 

Apart from a five-star rating from Mr Halliday, the note on the iPod mentioned magnificent views across the Polish Hill River region, As we pulled into the car park and looked across the countryside words like gob-smacked sprang to mind.

The tasting notes I scribbled while I was there disappeared somewhere along the track. The publicity material that remained on hand might have provided an opportunity to cheat a bit and reconstruct from memory, and internet access could have fleshed that material out into something resembling an authentic review. 

But an eight or nine-day gap before I’d be able to use that line of inquiry means it’s probably best to state that I was highly impressed (once again) and leave it at that. I had the same problem just down the road at Pikes. The wines were impressive, the mailing list subscribed to, and actual details regarding specific wines are hazy.

In particular, visiting the two establishments leaves me in awe of people who can taste large numbers of wines in a sitting and still maintain the ability to distinguish subtle differences between high-class examples of the same style.

Given an array of Rieslings and a fresh palate, I’d be able to work my way around to identifying one particular wine as the pick of the bunch, but it would take some time. 

Once the task had been accomplished palate burnout would make it difficult to repeat the exercise, even after a couple of hours’ break on, say, a range of Cabernets.

An overwhelmed, temporarily burnt out palate accounts for my relatively lukewarm response to the wines we tasted at the final stop, Reilly’s in Mintaro. 

Again, I’m forced to skip over details after indicating everything was impressive, with great examples of dry-grown wines on offer.

From Mintaro, we headed around for a non-tasting tour of the countryside and stopped for a stroll around Watervale before heading back to Auburn for a rest before what we expected to be a light dinner. 

But appearances are deceptive. When the packages we’d bought earlier had been placed in bowls, accompanied by a glass of the Knappstein ‘05 Three (a perfect match, by the way), a $9.50 Thai beef salad from Wild Saffron proved to be a surprisingly filling meal.

© Ian Hughes 2017