Friday, May 25, 2012

Lamb on the Barbee

We'd rather over-shot our allotted time at Cullen Wines and, accordingly we didn't have much time to take in more wineries before the cellars doors started shutting down for the day. Our host at Cullen suggested that we just carry down the road for a bit and check out the good things that were being done at Brookland Valley. I'd never heard of Brookland before but we certainly had no reason to disbelieve young Stuart. Little did we know that big name, Aussie wine writer, James Halliday, and his much anticipated annual wine guide picked Brookland Valley as Australia's winery of the year in 2009.

Found in a very picturesque vineyard, the cellar door also played home to a museum of old tools of the wine trade. Being somewhat rushed for time, we didn't give the tools the attention we would have otherwise. Tasting the wine just seemed a little more important.

An average vintage at Brookland Valley sees about 50,000 cases being made - primarily of Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cab Sauv blends. We were told that 95% of Brookland's wine is marketed at their entry level, Verse 1 label - and I did recall seeing that label for sale in some of the Melbourne bottle shops we visited. The Verse 1 wines utilize fruit that is sourced from a number of growers in the region as they have a goal of producing a consistent flavour profile and find that using fruit from the diverse sub-regions in Margaret River helps to overcome vintage variations in individual vineyards. The two more premium Estate and Reserve labels use only estate fruit, however.

I quite enjoyed the 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauv Merlot, particularly the vibrant nose on the wine, and - I suppose not surprisingly - I learned that the wine won one of only two gold medals in its category of about 50 wines at the 2010 Margaret River Wine Show. Too bad we couldn't take any home with us.

By now, it was 4 o'clock and we were definitely running out of time - particularly since we still had to do some shopping for dinner and we weren't sure how late the shops in the not-so-thriving metropolis of Margaret River would even be open on a Sunday afternoon.

One of the wineries that I'd really wanted to make it to was Stella Bella. I'd only ever seen or tried one of their wines previously - having been particularly attracted to the label, the name and the fact that it was from M.R. Luckily, I'd quite enjoyed the wine as well. Their wines don't seem to make it to our market much, but how could I not visit a winery with a premium label called Suckfizzle? Our rather late arrival didn't seem to bring out the cheeriest nature in the gal running the cellar door counter and she didn't deviate in the least in the range or designated number of wines that we could try for the set tasting fee. It wasn't the most engaging visit we'd had on our trip - having come from the other side of the world - but she was cordially to the point and, at least, delivered the goods.

Perhaps, if we'd allowed more time, we'd have learned and seen a bit more.

Much to my delight, what we did learn, however, was that our B&B hostess, Lara, wasn't kidding when she said that we can generally sit back on our patio and watch any number of kangaroos come out for dinner in the adjacent field. It would seem that the roos were as enamoured with the organic produce as I was. And, regardless of whether any of the others were as excited as I was, this definitely called for a glass and a toast.

Knowing that we only had two nights left in-country, Boo and I still had to finish off some of the bottles that we'd picked up along the way. We were well over the limit of bottles that we could bring back to Canada without paying additional duty. Merlot Boy and Margarita would, hopefully, fulfill their friendly duties and do their share to empty a couple bottles.

1129. 2011 Torbreck The Bothie (Barossa Valley - Australia)

First stop was a dessert wine we'd picked up back in the Barossa. I'd known all along that we still had almost two full litres of vodka that we'd picked up in the Sydney Duty Free Shop. Seems there hadn't been as many martinis along the way as had been expected. Luckily, the folks at Torbreck had concurred that The Bothie would work well in a vodka martini. A cocktail to watch roos by - what could be more of an outback tradition than that (even if we were rather displaced from any genuine outback)?

The folks at Torbreck note that "On a highland trail the place to stop and rest when weary is known as a Bothie." Seemed appropriate for our situation. Made from the Muscat à Petits Grains grape, the wine's fermentation is arrested part way through the process by the addition of brandy spirits, thus retaining the natural sweetness of the fruit.

The wine was fresh and lush and was way better as a wine than it was as a mix for martinis. As such the martinis were rather fleeting and there was plenty of Bothie left in the bottle come the end of the evening.

And, as fate would have it, I haven't previously added the varietal to my count for the Wine Century Club. This is the fourth varietal I'm adding to my tally while on this trip Down Under (and I wasn't done yet).

1130. 2011 Stella Bella Pink Muscat (Margaret River - Australia)

Our tasting at Stella Bella might not have been the most exuberant but that didn't mean we didn't like the wines. Inspired by Italian Moscato d'Asti wines, it was interesting in that we'd picked up this wine since it's made of Muscat Rose à Petits Grains, a variation of the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains used in the Torbreck wine.

And that means I get to add yet another varietal to my Wine Century club tally.

Unlike The Bothie, this isn't fortified with spirits. Rather, it's residual sweetness is kept in check with some nice acidity. I didn't notice any bubbles, à la a Moscato, but it was definitely an easy drinker and one that we'll likely never see at home in Vancouver.

With the easy drinkers out of the way, it was time to move onto some wine with a little more heft. After all, we'd put Merlot Boy - being the true Aussie that he is - in charge of throwing the lamb on the barbee. I can't believe that I don't have a picture of him grilling away, but I suppose I must have been over grabbing some greens and veggies from the garden or revelling in the fact that I'd finally managed to hear a kookaburra laugh. I'd been dying to hear one as Margarita said there were definite signs of them nearby and early evening was the best time to hear them calling out.

1131. 2008 Burnside Organic Farm - Three Boys Zinfandel (Margaret River - Australia)

Seeing as how we were staying in the Burnside Organic Farms Bungalows, it wouldn't have been right not to try one of their wines. Like Cullen Wines, who we visited earlier in the day, Burnside's vineyard are biodynamic as well. Burnside is just a little newer to the game of winemaking. Lara and Jamie McCall planted their first vines in 2001 and 2002 and they decided on planting Zinfandel - not the most common of varietals found in Margaret River, but they'd tried a Zin made by Cape Mentelle and thought that was the way they wanted to go. They expanded the Zinfandel planting in 2005 but they still only made 600 bottles of Zin in 2008. In fact, we were lucky enough to get the last bottle of the 2008 vintage. The B&B was currently selling the 2009 bottling but Lara said that she'd recommend the '08 as she thought it was a little fuller and more layered.

Despite the limited production, the wine is made on the farm. As their site notes, "with Jamie busy looking after the vineyard it was up to Lara to learn how to make wine." This was a far more subdued wine when I thought back to the big-fruited California Zins we generally run across. It seemed much more along the lines of an Old World approach. Our whirlwind of a visit to the region didn't allow us to take a tour of the farm's facilities or really sit down and discuss the whole winemaking scene with the McCalls but I would surely have loved to. Guess we'll just need to revisit Burnside some time down the road.
Should we only be so lucky!

1132. 2008 Stella Bella Shiraz (Margaret River - Australia)

Much to my delight, Merlot Boy picked up a bottle of the Stella Bella Shiraz to go with the lamb. It was actually a bottle of the 2002 Shiraz that tweaked my interest in Stella Bella and it made it to The List back at #156. That seems so long ago now.

By now, all our teeth were rather stained. Looking at some of the shots, I might need to learn how to photoshop some brighter teeth for all of us. At least we were still able to pose for a picture. Some of the later shots of us as we were singing Stop In The Name of Love and Call Me Maybe to the kangaroos (we were rather isolated, thankfully) will not be making it to the blog.

Like the Zin, the Shiraz was certainly more subdued than the Barossa wines we'd encountered earlier on. It seems like this is just part of the general nature of Margaret River wines. I'm afraid, however, that I wouldn't trust any of my tasting notes by this time of the evening - even if I'd taken any.

We weren't quite done yet though.

1133. 2010 Cape Mentelle - Trinders Cabernet Merlot (Margaret River - Australia)

Whether or not we even needed another cork popped is debatable. It appeared that Merlot Boy and Margarita were going to face just as many issues as we were in being able to transport wine home. Neither one of them had brought along checked luggage and taking wine onto the flight was going to prove to be a task. Hence, Merlot Boy said that we had no choice but to open another.

I don't know if we even saw any straight Merlot varietal wines at any of our M.R. wineries. I gather Merlot is used more for blending than being a signature grape for the region. Merlot Boy had to have at least one bottle that gave a nod to his namesake grape though. The blend contains all five main Bordeaux varietals; however, with 44% Cab Sauv and 42% Merlot, there wasn't a whole lot of room for influence by the Cab Franc, Petit Verdot or Malbec.

This may seem hard to believe, but even hard-core Aussies and vacationers eventually need to call an end to the evening. We'd not only had a very full day but we still had another one coming up. I figure, if nothing else, we did a pretty good job to still be standing though. Who knows what the kangaroos thought of our serenade though?

Knowing this was our last night in Margaret River was a sobering thought however.

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