In January, Clyde, Elisabeth and I spent a week and a half in South Australia. With the exception of a day trip to the Clare Valley, we divided our time between the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. The trip offered a view of everyone from the “big boys” (Penfolds, Rosemount, Jacob’s Creek) to the smaller producers (Hewitson, Torbreck, Longwood), and quality was very high across the board. For me, it was a chance to revisit 2003, taste many of the 2004s coming on to the market, and barrel sample the much anticipated 2005 vintage. Tasting the warmer 2003 vintage confirmed what I thought from my visit in 2004, which was that the wines generally were more even and balanced in the cooler region of McLaren Vale. The 2004s showed well in the Barossa as well as McLaren Vale with the cooler vintage offering wines of good balance and a more streamlined structure. Whether it was the cool 2004s and the somewhat cool, long, even season of 2005, or a maturing of winemaking styles, the trend seemed to be showing better balance of wood and control of alcohol levels. The 2005 vintage showed what I’d been hearing from various Australian winemakers since last year. These guys experienced a perfect, long, even growing season with very good balancing acidity and fine mid-palate richness. This was certainly true of all the white wines I tasted and that are now starting to come in. The reds out of barrel were superb, and we were able to get a preview from Thorn-Clarke, Elderton, Craneford, Ross Estate, Tait, Kaesler, Hewitson and Clarendon. So, to sum it up, the 2004 and 2005 vintages will give fans of Australian wine much to look forward to whether it’s wines for current consumption or for the cellar. Here are two classic Barossa Valley Shiraz to try: 2004 Torbreck Woodcutters Red Shiraz ($17.99) and the 2004 Hewitson Ned & Henry’s Shiraz ($17.99) David Powell from Torbreck and Dean Hewitson are both making superb wines. You owe it to yourself to try these great examples of the vintage and varietal. The Woodcutter is from 10- to 15-year-old vines that are cropped at about 2.5 tons to the acre and sees larger neutral barrels. There are notes of tar, black olive, meats and blackberry with a juicy, long finish. Parker gave this 91 points. Ned & Henry’s has 9% mourvèdre added and shows ripe silky boysenberry and blackberry fruits with meats and spice. Dean uses all French barriques, very few of which are new. The wine has superb balance and length. Cheers! —Jimmy C
This month I would like to share with you one of the most exciting discoveries of my trip through the Rhone Valley last year. Domaine de la Ferme Saint-Martin is a small domaine located in the Cotes du Rhone appellation of Beaumes de Venise. Vigneron Guy Jullien farms approximately 22 hectares of vineyards of several parcels spread across the appellations of Beaumes de Venise and Cote de Ventoux. Guy deeply believes in making wine that is respectful of both the soil and nature. For this reason, yields are kept low, and he tends to his vines organically. In order to preserve the purity of his gorgeous syrah and grenache grapes, Guy vinifies in cement vats, and elevage in old wood is utilized only for syrah. I first met Guy after an incredibly long and very hot day of tasting. Guy’s good friend and neighbor Eric Tabardon thought that it might be a good idea for us to meet, and boy was he right. Each wine, from the entry level “vin de soif” up to the cuvee Saint Martin, exhibited a distinct personality. As I tasted, my mind conjured up the perfect occasion: on the deck with grilled veggies, with roast duck, or on a cold rainy night with great friends and a beef daube. Fantastic! The 2004 Beaumes de Venise Rouge Domaine de la Ferme Saint Martin “Terres Jaunes” (ORGANIC) ($12.99) is comprised of grenache (70%) and syrah (30%) from limestone and clay soils formed some 240 million years ago. This “yellow earth” imparts a brightness to the wine, along with fine tannins and a tight mineral core. Bright cherry, violets and black licorice provide a forwardness and charm that will captivate you. Notes of white pepper and star anise add an element of spicy complexity, coupled with good acidity that will make this red Rhone a lovely companion at the table. I hope you will taste this delicious gem of a wine! —Mulan Chan
This month I would like to get on my soapbox and champion one of the most underrated wine regions in France: Provence. Sure, it’s beautiful. Of course, the food is great. But what about the wine? Provence certainly gets lots of attention in the form of tourism, but because of its good looks does not often see the need to develop quality wines. Fortunately, there is a small but growing group of vignerons producing wines that are delicious and characterful. Château Estoublon, located in Les Baux de Provence, consist of 10 hectares of vines and 35 hectares of olive trees, all organically grown. Winemaker Remy Reboul is after rich and elegant wines that are reflective of the sun-drenched colors and flavors of Provence. The 2004 Les Baux de Provence Château d’Estoublon Blanc (ORGANIC) ($19.99) is a blend of ugni blanc and grenache blanc. This most serious Provencal white is rich and grand, with notes of honey and almonds. On the palate, however, it is pure refreshing fruit showing citrus along with more tropical notes toward the end. A dead ringer for a great white Châteauneuf-du-Pape! The 2003 Les Baux de Provence Château d’Estoublon Rouge (ORGANIC) ($18.99) is composed of grenache, syrah and about 10% cabernet sauvignon. Ripe griotte aromatics and notes of black olive and thyme abound in this supple red. The wine maintains the requisite amount of mineral drive and acidity to keep make this a perfect accompaniment to an eggplant tian or leg of lamb. —Mulan Chan
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