As you may know, K&L has developed an informed and passionate staff with wine buyers for the separate categories. As the company and world of wine has grown this has become a necessary evolution to be at the top of our game and bring the customer the most interesting wines at the best value possible. The trips that we take around the world allow us to make relationships and deals for direct import and private labels to help realize that vision. This past January, I spent two weeks in South Australia focusing on two of the major regions in this state, the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. Though there are plenty of other regions that offer great character and style and deserve more attention by the press, these regions at present represent the “face” of the majority of Australian wines in the market. Believe me, that’s not a bad thing. Both these areas are home to some of the great vineyards of the world offering incredibly old vine Shiraz (Syrah), Grenache and Mourvdre that produce profound wines from low yielding vines giving great concentration and intensity. Fine Cabernet can be found as well and the Rieslings from Clare Valley and Eden Valley (a sub-region of the Barossa Valley) are absolutely world class. Both regions are unique in style and have their own microclimate within them, and of course the winemakers influence is key. The Barossa Valley typically shows more broad shouldered ripe black fruit and bittersweet chocolate notes with cooler spots in the south end of the valley near Williamstown and the sub-region of Eden Valley driven by the influence of altitude. You can taste the effect of this in some of the wines from Yalumba and Thorn Clarke that even with rich dark fruits will show a lighter feel on the palate and slightly lower alcohol levels. McLaren Vale will tend to show brighter fruit with cassis and blue rather than blackberry fruit and red fruits as well. The chocolate notes here lean to milk instead of dark. The cooler aspect to this region is driven by a maritime influence due to the Gulf of St. Vincent. There is a greater change in the day and night time temperature here and cooler in general. This gives the wines of McLaren Vale a bit more acidity that shows in the juicy, silky mid-palate of these wines. After tasting over 350 wines, I welcomed the cooler vintages of 2004 and 2005. 2003 was a hot vintage that I believe was more consistent in McLaren Vale and a little less focused in Barossa. That being said, we always say…follow the producer, vintage tells you when to drink the wine. The 2004 vintage was a tad cooler than 2005 and the wines are compact, refined and show good definition and balance. 2005 was a very even season with the wines having great purity, varietal character, fine balancing acidity and expressive length. The white wines that are already coming on board have great mid-palate fruit and weight with superb supporting acid. All and all, this looks to be a spectacular vintage that will have wines in the lower priced tier way over delivering and in the upper range have the structure to reward cellaring and evolve into complex wines. Jim Chanteloup K&L Australian Wine Buyer
In my opinion, there are two great liquid ways to beat the heat of summer: beer and Champagne. Since I do not do a beer column (not that I wouldn’t want to!), I’ll stick to Champagne. For August, I have two great, underpriced Champagnes that are great on a hot summer evening. Forget air-conditioning; have a nice, cooling glass of bubbly! At the top of the list is the fresh, zippy and delicate Launois “Cuvee Reserve” Brut Blanc de Blancs ($25.99). Like one of my other favorites, Champagne Krug, Launois gets a lot of its fruit from the Mesnil district of Champagne. A great blend of all Grand Cru chardonnay from Mesnil, Oger, Cramant and Avize. A nose of custard, pine nuts and wet stones. In the mouth, a wonderful cleanliness of character that melds with pear fruit, almonds, vanilla crème and lemon/lime nuances. Rich in style with 90% of the fruit from the 2000 vintage and 10% coming from 1998 reserve stock. I poured this for the staff last month, and even some of my more skeptical co-workers, who don’t really, shall we say, appreciate Champagne, loved this one! Like an old friend, the Ariston Carte Blanche Brut ($22.99) never fails to please. A direct contrast to the Launois, the Ariston is true to its terrior in the small village of Brouillet. The steep, sunny slopes of this district yield riper fruit with a great richness. The final blend is 40% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir and 30% pinot meunier. The nose has elements of pistachios, brioche and red fruits. Like the Launois, the chardonnay in the mouth has lemon curd and custard flavors, while the pinot noir and the pinot meunier add red plum and currant fruit. A nice finish of toasted hazelnuts. Head out to that porch with some Champagne, crusty bread, cheese and fruit! Cheers and have a great month! —Scott Beckerley
2005 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand ($8.99) Lifted aromas of lime blossom and grapefruit with a hint of herbs. On the palate the wine is refreshing with good acidity and fine length. This crowd pleaser is a must for any party or wedding this summer. 2005 Highfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand ($13.99) For those who prefer a richer style, the bouquet offers lovely notes of lime, passion fruit, gooseberry, red bell pepper and minerals. The wine has a wee bit of barrel fermentation and lees contact giving it a creamy texture on the palate framed by juicy acidity. 2001 Penfolds Winemakers Reserve Limited Release Shiraz South Australia ($9.99) Due to a error in the Penfolds warehouse, this wine was found and labeled as the Winemakers Reserve. The juice inside is a wine (no, not Grange!) you would normally have to pay quite a bit more for. Full of ripe mulberry, cedar, spice and earth aromas, on the palate notes of dusty red currant, cherry and mint come into play, with fine tannins, good acidity and very nice length. 2004 Hewitson “Miss Harry” GSM Barossa Valley South Australia ($17.99) Dean Hewitson makes one the great values in a Southern Rhone style Aussie red. A bit more structured than the 2003, the wine offers beautiful aromas of plum, dark berry, meats and pepper spice. On the palate there is seamless balance framed by a hint of mocha and a little mint in the long finish. —Jimmy C
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