An early morning wake up call, a few hardy souls and I were heading out at the crack of dawn to go squid fishing in McLaren Vale. To be honest, I never thought I would be leaving the comfort of my warm bed at 5.30am of my own free will to go and sit in a fishing boat on the sea, but I thought what the heck…when in Rome…! We were being shown the ropes by Jock Harvey of Chalk Hill Wines and Jock Bosworth of Battle of Bosworth wines both of whom we had met the night before at The Victory. They were also ably assisted by Carl. As the sun was rising, the colour of the sea was beautiful, mottled purple and blue, it seemed almost milky. The fact that we had gotten up so early was immediately made worth it just for the view. Three little fishing boats, speeding round the coast line to find the best spot to catch the squid, it wasn’t long before the cool box started to get filled up with the oddly beautiful creatures. As I have mentioned a fair few times in my blogs on this trip, it’s all about balance. In this case it was all about the balance of the Eskee (Australian for cool box for the uninitiated!) As the squid went in, our morning victuals had to come out. I’ll be the first to admit, when I get home to blighty, a detox is seriously on the cards. After suffering absolutely no privations for the duration of the trip, I have eaten and drank like a king (or Queen in this case). This morning was no different. We feasted on Mars bars, JD and coke, iced coffee and even some freshly caught squid. A balanced morning meal by anyone’s standard!! After a quick reckoning once back on the shore, the boat skippered by Jock Harvey won with the largest catch – my boat, of course! A perfect day to start the morning, even if we did all get covered in squid ink at one point or another!
A quick shower and change and we were on the road again, leaving McLaren Vale behind and heading for the Adelaide Hills. Shaw and Smith, like its wines is an elegant, modern and effortlessly stylish place. Martin Shaw spoke a little about the Adelaide Hills region, which in the sense of wine making terms is still a young region. Brian Croser was the founding father of viticulture for dry wines in the region. He planted in the late seventies – early eighties, and it wasn’t long before other experienced winemakers followed suit. Unlike in other viticultural areas where perhaps farmers have turned to viticulture with little or no experience, many of the wineries in Adelaide Hills have lots of viticultural experience behind them and are where they are because of a degree of science.
In the tasting room we started with a sauvignon blanc. Though Shaw and Smith aren’t known for making sauvignons, they wanted to show that they can be diverse. Lovely and simple in style, they aren’t aiming to capture green or herbaceous notes but are leaning more towards the pink grapefruit flavour palette. The 2009 M3 Chardonnay had layers of complexity. Integrated oak characteristic came from the barrel ferment in French oak. This adds a lovely creaminess and textural aspect to the wine. Martin Shaw originally thought the Adelaide Hills would be too cool to ripen shiraz, however he has been delighted to be proved wrong he told us. With the right aspect and the right site, which is what Martin made sure they had, this makes an elegant wine with the bright fruit qualities shining through.
Magill Estate is the spiritual home of Penfolds. Only a few kilometres from Adelaide, I was surprised when we drove up to the estate, as it seems to be slap bang in the middle of a residential area. Obviously this wouldn’t have been the case originally, and now the regulations have changed so that nothing more can be built in the immediate vicinity. Nowadays the hub of the winemaking has been moved to the Barossa, however, a small amount of wine making still goes on at Magill Estate, and this is where people can find out about the Penfolds story, soak up its history and visit the cellar door. Founded by Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold, an English doctor in the mid 1840′s it is perhaps best known by it’s flagship red wine, Penfolds Grange. Since Grange was first created in the early fifties there has surprisingly only been four chief winemakers, really highlighting the devotion and loyalty that people involved in the Penfolds story have for the company. After a brief tour round part of the Magill estate, including cellars which housed barrels of Grange, one barrel of which would have amounted to a quarter of a million Australian dollars. The highlight of the tasting for me had to be the two iconic wines, Grange and Yattarna. With such a cult status, especially so for Grange, I was looking forward to trying them. The fruit for Yattarna, for the 2007 vintage at least has come from Derwent Valley in Tasmania, Adelaide Hills and Henty. The wine displayed notes of melon and white stone fruit. The toasty notes that came from the use of oak were well integrated and gave a complexity to the wine. Overall I was impressed by this wine, it was complex, rounded and had a fabulous finish. The Grange, the last wine of the day was the 2005 vintage. Balance is key for this wine, only the best fruit goes into this wine, and once the fruit is selected it is treated with the utmost care, from grape to bottle. Aged in new American oak, this helps give it the structure and longevity that Grange needs. The intensity of fruit was enormous, it had complexity and depth. Blackberry and blueberry fruit was abundant on the nose and palate, with hints of violets and sweet spice. This is a big wine, I’d love to be able to see how it has developed in another ten years time.