You are both too kind, Ian and Jenise. The tasting really was a good one, especially since I see I had had only two Australian wines before that tasting. I spent a great deal of time writing the piece, and then editing with another participant who posted his own notes on the event. My wine diary has been a great joy to read and re-read as I try new wines.
Here's the text of the full tasting; I'm kind of astonished at how comprehensive they are -- my current notes are much more formulistic. I was particularly impressed with how Dan took me to task for my careless reporting:
4/13/99 Tue As posted on WLDG:
The Executive Wine Seminars sales pitch was irresistible, especially since I know so little about Australian wines:
“Guest Speaker: Dan Phillips, Wine Importer; President, The Grateful Palate.
“’Dan Phillips is an immensely talented, enthusiastic young guy who will unquestionably make a name for himself given his uncanny ability to pick out sensational wine producing estates.” Robert M. Parker, Jr., The Wine Advocate, Issue 117.
“Readers of The Wine Advocate, Issue 117 had to be impressed with Mr. Parker's profile of Dan Phillips' portfolio of small Australian wineries. It was filled with a plethora of praise and huge scores. You can understand why we are so delighted that Mr. Phillips will join us to present many of his top wines.”
“Prepare to be dazzled. We'll begin with two white aperitifs: 1997 Leland Estate Sauvignon Blanc and 1996 Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay. Then it's on to the main attraction: twelve (12) extraordinary wines based entirely or partially on Shiraz. The Shiraz lineup, with Mr. Parker's rating in parenthesis, follows: 1995 Magpie Estate "The Malcolm" (99) • 1994 Three Rivers (95) • 1995 Greenock Creek "Seven Acres" (98) • 1995 Torbreck "Run Rig" (95) • 1996 Veritas "Hanisch" (97) • 1996 Fox Creek "Reserve" (95) • 1996 Burge Family Winemaker's Shiraz "Draycott Reserve" (NR) • 1996 Summerfield (89) • 1996 Lengs & Cooter (90) • 1997 Wild Duck Creek "Springflat Shiraz" (NR) • 1997 Noon Eclipse Grenache/Shiraz (NR) • 1996 Majella Maleea Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon (91+).
“For a fascinating conclusion, we’ll taste Fox Creek “Vixen”, a sparkling Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon. It must be tasted to be believed.”
The sales pitch was spot on. About 25 of us attended this tasting in New York City on April 13; there were only a couple negative comments all night from what is normally an outspoken, highly critical crowd. All of the wines were very good, the best outstanding. I have rarely had so many good wines in such a short time. Not a clunker in the group – until the last Vixen. And Phillips is a very pleasant, interesting speaker, clearly devoted to wine and Australian wine in particular.
Flight 1. Phillips said that These two vineyards were next to each other with similar exposures and soils; the only difference was in winemaking styles. There was enormous disagreement about these two wines; in fact Millman tasted from the second bottle to be sure there hadn’t been an error in pouring. Phillips said the Leland Estate had been made from grapes that were fully exposed to the sun; at harvest time there were all leaves had been hand picked and the grapes were fully exposed to the sun and were as ripe as possible. The Geoff Weaver were shaded until picking, and were slightly green when picked.
1998 Leland Estate Sauvignon Blanc (Lenswood) Australia. [$25 US.] Pale yellow color, very clear; slight aroma of orange and lime, strong orange attack with an intense taste of lime, slightly sweet and mild acid; medium and soft mouth feel; long finish with grapefruit notes. T3*.
1998 Geoff Weaver Sauvignon Blanc (Lenswood) Australia. [$20-$25 US.] Pale yellow color, slight citric aroma, tastes of grapefruit and melon; medium mouth feel; relatively short finish with grapefruit and spice finish. The nose opened over time and rewarded lots of swirling. T3*.
Other comments: Generally other tasters found the Leland Estate racy, flamboyant, up front, with no cat pee in the taste, fairly simple; the Geoff Weaver seemed more closed, but promised more underlying complexity.
Flight 2. These two wines are blends of Shiraz and either Grenach or Cabernet Sauvignon.
1997 Noon Eclipse Grenache (65%)/Shiraz (35%) (McLaren Vale) Australia. [$35 US]16.4% alcohol. [NR by Parker]. Deep purple red color; deep hue; light fruit and strong black pepper aroma, with hints of earth; very good fruit taste with very intense black pepper, and a bit of earth; not at all hot, the fruit hiding the alcohol very well; strong, well integrated tannins; medium mouth feel; long finish with several black pepper, fruit and other spice notes. T4*.
Others comments: somewhat “over-blown”, “very intense fruit”, “exuberant”, “no sweetness”. From 80 year old vines.
1996 Majella Maleea Shiraz (about 50%)/Cabernet Sauvignon (about 50%) Coonawarra Australia. [$50 US] [Parker 91+] Bright red color; medium hue; excellent fruit and black spice aroma; intense fruit attack; excellent fruit and black spice tastes, with very distinct tastes of mint; very mild tannins; well structured; medium mouth feel; long, spicy finish. A very pleasant wine for drinking tonight. T4*+.
Flight 3. Phillips said that the wines in this flight came from four distinct regions in Australia; he had put it together to demonstrate (assuming the word meant anything more than a French marketing device), that “It is BS that there is no terroir in Oz.” [He made a number of comments about Australian wine during the evening which I will post in a separate post later.]
1996 Summerfield Shiraz (Pyrennees, a cool area in Victoria about 2 ½ hours North and west of Melbourne) Australia. 14% alcohol. [$40 US] [Parker 89.] Clear red color; deep hue; slight fruit aroma which strengthen over time and some black pepper notes; mild, very good fruit and black pepper tastes; distinct eucalyptus aromas and tastes; nicely balanced tannins; medium mouth feel; medium long finish with good fruit and black pepper notes. Easy, forward, relatively simple wine. T3*.
Phillips: 30 year old vines. 1996 was generally a superb year in Australia, 1997 Australian wines were generally much lighter, but that the 1997 Summerfield would be exceptional because of the vineyard’s cool location. He said the American oak had been used, a third of which was new. A winemaker near us said that the eucalyptus probably came from trees upwind of the vineyard; he said that the resins from the trees blew onto the grapes during the growing season. Phillips said there were eucalyptus trees everywhere in Australia, but that wines from cooler vineyards generally showed more eucalyptus.
1996 Lengs & Cooter Shiraz (Clare Valley, a cool region) Australia. 13.5% alcohol. [$26 US] [Parker 90.] Deep purple red color; deep hue; very good aroma of fruit with spice and eucalyptus notes with a slight, not unpleasant bitterness; strong fruit attack; intense black pepper tastes with very good fruit; very good, well balanced tannins; medium mouth feel; long, interesting finish with black pepper, fruit and eucalyptus notes. A wonderful aroma in the glass after the wine was poured out. Would reward some additional cellaring to soften the tannins. T4*+.
Phillips: 120 year old vines; 80 year average in the four plots in the vineyard generally; a third new American oak. Other comments: complex, beautiful balance; a slight gingery bitterness, probably contributed by the age of the vines according to the wine maker next to me.
1997 Wild Duck Creek Springflat Shiraz (Heathcote ) Victoria Australia. 14.9% alcohol. [$40 US] [Parker not rated.] Very dark purple red; deep hue; very good aromas of fruit, black spices, leather and wood; very good tastes of fruit, black pepper and cedar, with hints of earth; medium mouth feel; medium finish with fruit, spice and leather notes. T4*.
Phillips: ten to fifteen year old vines; 50% new American oak; the white pepper taste evident in the 1996 vintage is much less in the 1997 vintage.
1996 Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz (McLaren Vale) Australia. 14.5% alcohol. [$55 US] [Parker 95.] Very deep red color; deep hue; very good to excellent fruit and black spice aroma and tastes; the fruit grew in depth and complexity over time and rewarded lots of swirling; good, well balanced tannins; long, lingering finish with many fruit, black spice and hints of leather and cedar notes; seductive, I kept coming back to this wine and hated to spit it out. Lovely juice. T5*.
Phillips: Nine year old vines; machine picked grapes. “Some of our beliefs are just plain wrong!” 25% new American oak. Someone asked Phillips how this wine would age. He said that warm weather Shiraz would age something like Burgundy: leather and spice would become more predominate, while the fruit would stay about the same. Cool weather Shiraz maintains the same levels of fruit, but peppermint becomes much more pronounced. Howard Kaplan: “This is wonderful wine. I could go for a swim in it.” A general favorite, certainly the best of this flight, which was really very strong over-all.
Flight 4. Phillips: the next two flights come from the Barossa Valley, “the heart of the beast”.
[Re-write April 20:
You are absolutely correct; my notes confirm that you said that the Burge was a “masterpiece” and “new for Australia”. My notes also say “crowd favorite”, but that was clearly an impression formed by me and not a quote from you. A case of very careless quoting and writing on my part, and I apologize. Also, I’ve printed a correction on WLDG, and would also be very grateful if you would communicate this email to the winemaker who wrongfully took you to task.
Sorry for causing you any problems. The tasting note should have read:
1996 Burge Family Winemaker’s Shiraz Draycott Reserve (Barossa) Australia. 14.0% alcohol. [$60 US] [Parker not rated.] Deep purple red color; deep hue; excellent fruit and black spice aromas and tastes; mild, complex tannins with a hint of acidity that beautifully set off the fruit; complex levels of aroma and tastes; medium mouth feel; long complex finish. T5*.
Phillips: 60 year old vines; cuttings from 140 year old Hermitage vines; 300 cases; “A masterpiece” and “new for Oz.” (Phillips said that Barossa was really two distinctly different regions, the Northern Barossa with extreme weather and lower yields than the southern Barossa; this wine is from southern Barossa but typical of wines from Northern Barossa.) French oak, unusual in Australia, where American oak is generally used. The crowd had a tremendously positive response to this wine; I would guess it was the crowd favorite of the evening, although we didn’t vote formally The wine maker next to me gave it a 95, his highest rating of the evening.]
1995 Torbreck Shiraz Run Rig (Barossa) Australia. [95% Shiraz, 5% Viognier.] 14.5% alcohol. [$60 US] [Parker 95.] Purple red color; deep hue; excellent fruit aroma with light pepper notes; excellent fruit tastes with some black pepper and earthen notes; an impression of sweetness, but not really sweet; mild tannins; medium mouth feel with a very elegant style; long, lingering finish with many fruit and spice notes. Lovely, but a bit simple and a little hot. T4*.
Phillips: 300 cases; 80 to 100 year old vines, contracted by wine maker David Powell; French oak. A somewhat controversial wine tonight. Millman: “It showed the alcohol, a little hot and a little wild.” Kaplan: “Awesome.”
1996 Veritas Shiraz Hanisch (Barossa) Australia. 15.1% alcohol. [$40 US] [Parker 97.] Deep purple red color; deep hue; fairly limited fruit aroma and very good black spice aroma; tremendous amounts of fruit on the palate with light black pepper tastes (an unusual reversal between aroma and taste in my experience); mild, well balanced, interesting tannins; long finish with many fruit and black pepper notes. Lovely wine, but not very interesting compared to the Burge Family. T4*.
Phillips: 500 cases; 110 year old vines. The crowd seemed to like this wine, but there wasn’t wild enthusiasm; my wine making friend gave it a 92.
Flight 5. Phillips said that these three wines were classic Northern Barossa wines.
1995 Greenock Creek Shiraz Seven Acres (Barossa) Australia. 14.8% alcohol. [$55 US.] [Parker 98.] Deep purple red color; deep hue; excellent fruit and black pepper aroma; lovely fruit tastes with very good to excellent black pepper and leather taste notes; mild, complex tannins, beautifully balanced; several layers of complexity, a wine to think about; medium mouth feel; long, lingering finish with many spice, fruit, leather and cedar notes. Gone to heaven! T5*.
Phillips: Seven year old vines; Chris Ringland makes this wine for a couple who owns the vineyard; American oak; he seals the barrels and never tops up. Phillips says this takes great courage; he said most California wine makers top up all the time, even weekly. The wine maker next to me said that topping up was not necessary if the seal for the barrel could be made air tight; Phillips replied that Ringland agreed, but that topping up was necessary in the Rhône because humidity was higher. But in a dry climate like Australia, topping up was not necessary and actually hurt flavor. Generally, people shared my enthusiasm for this wine: “beautifully made”, “complex”, “incredible length”, etc.
1994 Three Rivers Shiraz (Barossa) Australia. 15.0% alcohol. [$110 US on release.] [Parker 95.] Purple red color; medium hue; intense aromas of fruit, black pepper and sassafras; lovely fruit tastes with good black pepper and herbal taste notes; a hint of oak (somehow the fruit and the oak worked wonderfully together) excellent well balanced tannins; medium mouth feel; long, complex finish. A wine that was impossible to pour out. T5*.
Phillips: Made by Ringland. Three years in new French oak. Sealed, never topped up. Seen for $600 in a Los Angeles catalog; “No wine is worth $600 a bottle to me.” General enthusiasm from the crowd [for both the wine and the sentiment].
1996 Magpie Estate Shiraz The Malcolm (Barossa) Australia. 16.5% alcohol. [$110 US on release.] [Parker 99.] Very deep purple red; deep hue; rich, penetrating fruit aromas with hints of black pepper, leather and earth; super rich red fruit tastes with a bit of black pepper; medium mouth feel, velvety and smooth; medium long finish with several fruit and black pepper notes. Port-like, a little boring after awhile, almost cloying. T4*.
Phillips: The maker was concerned about why Parker didn’t rate his wine 100. 50% new American oak. Some controversy about this wine. Most people liked it better than I did, but there were several who found it too oaky and a bit closed.
Fox Creek Vixen Sparkling Shiraz [about 70%]/ Cabernet Sauvignon [about 30%] (McLaren Vale) Australia. 13.5% alcohol. [$15 to $20 US]. This looked like alcoholic grape soda to me, a one inch frothy head and a bit of flavor. No tasting notes; sorry Murray.
Phillips: Fantastic with Asian food. Crowd reaction: “Why bother?”, “Tell me, Mr. Phillips, if you can make wines as wonderful as those we’ve had tonight, why would you spend any time making this?” Phillips didn’t have a very good answer.
Overall, a great wine tasting experience.
RESPONSES FROM WLDG:
Roberto Rogness, WINE EXPO 15 Apr 99: Phillips: Fantastic with Asian food. Crowd reaction: “Why bother?”, “Tell me, Mr. Phillips, if you can make wines as wonderful as those we’ve had tonight, why would you spend any time making this?” Phillips didn’t have a very good answer.
Because it's fantastic with ASIAN food, Bob! Just like Danny said. I regularly dine with Dan at Asiatic Hole in the Walls and we have joined him in our quest for the Great Red Fizz, returning only yesterday from VinItaly 99 where we sought out the perfect Sangue di Giuda (Blood Of Judas!) a groovy Bonarda and Croatina based Red Fizzy made just outside of Buttafuoco. Roberto
Ross: Thanks for the insight. No one doubted Dan when he said it went well with Asian food. Mostly we were wondering why you would use juice to make a $20 bottle when you could make stuff with the same juice selling for $25 and much higher. And, it really was in the wrong place in the tasting. As a second flight, it would have showed much better. Thanks again.
Bruce L. 15 Apr 99: Bob--thanks for the notes. I have been able to taste through many of the wines that Dan Phillips imports, and you tasted two of my favorites--the Greenock Creek 7 Acre and the Fox Creek Reserve. The current vintage of the Greenock Creek is the 96, and the current vintage of the Fox Creek is the 97; both are excellent and well-worth tracking down. The Noon Eclipse is also very promising, but I think it could use 2-3 years in the cellar.
Murray, Aus 15 Apr 99: Nicely Done Bob, btw I'm not waving flags over Australian Sparkling reds overall, I'm personally not a big fan of the lesser one's at all. No apologies required. The Summerfield is a sleeping giant in the Pyrenees area (same area as Taltarnie, Dalwhinnie etc) The eucalyptus character is a result of the terroir of the area, the Victorian Pyrenees Range looms over the area. Great spot to visit too. The Veritas wine is a great one, I've only had it once and loved it, it's quite rare over here, bring one out when you visit!!!
Bob Ross 15 Apr 99: Thanks, Murray. That sparkler sure is variable: it's one for three with me now. But in this company, a really tough act to follow. It would have been better to make it the second flight, I think; a bridge between the Sauvignon Blancs and the heavies. Is the "n" doubled in the Australian Pyrenees? Executive Wine rendered it "Pyrennees." I'll look for the Veritas. BTW, not that you would need any help, but Phillips offered to give travel information to anyone going to Oz. gratefulpalate.com Janet and I are planning a trip next year, and we'll take advantage of his offer. Thanks for the nice words, Murray. In Vino Veritas!
Murray, Aus 15 Apr 99: Bob, My books have it as one 'n', 3 e's and a y. Delighted you're planning to come down under. Note Wine Australia is being held in Melbourne in 2000 (I'll try and find dates). The '98 event was Fantastic!! I'd be delighted if you and Janet could join us for dinner as well. We may not be as eloquent as Dan's winemakers, but we could be more flexible with the wines. Murray PS: it's 9.40 pm and I'm enjoying (another) Wynns Cab, hope your milk and OJ is equally as enjoyable!!
Gerad Brennan 15 Apr 99: There was an Australian Cab released last week in Ontario 1996 Grant Burge Cab. Would Grant Burge be any relation to the Burge family whose Shiraz you tasted, or is he just another winemaker with same name. If indeed he is one in the same I think I will pick up a few bottles of this wine, $18.90 Canadian. The Shiraz sounded great. It’s nice to have this data base so I can look for a few of these wines to pop up in here. Great notes from a great tasting. Cheers Gerad
Bob Ross 15 Apr 99: Thanks for the nice words, Gerad. I can't help much on Burge Family. I know they are located in the southern Barossa Valley and also make an Old Vines Grenache. Phillips has a website at gratefulpalate.com. I don't see the wine you're asking about there, but I'm sure Phillips would respond to any questions. He acted like a real go getter, and very focussed on wine and Australian wine makers.
Burge Family - correction - RB 15 Apr 99: They are related but it is definitely not the same winery BURGE FAMILY is boutique and permium and the other is a large more commercial.
Jon 14 Apr 99: GSanta Maria Valley California.REAT NOTES, Bob. Grateful Palate clearly the preeminent player in the market and deserves tons of credit for introducing us to some superb wines from Oz. Just received my shipment of my annual, very compulsive buying spree of Oz reds...Shifted gears a few years ago and stopped buying Boredough after 90 vintage and only a smattering of red Burgs since same. Along with Warrabilla, Mt Langi Ghiran and Leasingham Classic Clare, got some Fox Creek and Veritas wines though none as exalted as those you tasted...will open and post after they recover from travel shock.
Mattman: 14 Apr 99: Bob: Thanks very much for the notes. They are precise and well done. I was lucky enough to taste through a dozen or so of the wines that Dan carries in the shop a while back. I concur with most of your notes. The Burge Family Cab was unfortunately corked, but I could see immense potential in the wine. The '95 Greenock is a miracle of Shiraz (if you like the style). I have a good customer who swears by Grange, HoG, E & E, etc. I hope to blow his doors off one day with a Seven Acres. Thanks again for the all-encompassing notes.
Dan Silverman: Thanks for the TNs. I live in NYC. Where's the best place to look for some of these wines? Dan
Bob: Phillips said that Zachy's, Merrell, Sherry Lehmann and Cross Roads handled them. I've been dealing with Wine Ventures in Tenafly, NJ.