Category Archives: Australia

The Wine Raconteur: Torbreck “The Factor” 2001

Somewhere, beyond the Sea...on Zanzibar.

Somewhere, beyond the Sea…on Zanzibar. 

This is the eleventh installment of my summer 2013 guest blogging series with the theme “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea”. Let me briefly introduce today’s blogger, who was most generous in sharing an earlier post with us. John “The Wine Raconteur” was new to blogging, like me, when I stumbled on his writing. We both had started our blogs in May 2012. His was actually one of the first blogs I came across and followed. We have since interacted on numerous occasions and met in person. I consider him a friend. In his blog, The Wine Raconteur, he explores restaurants, foods and wines. For John, wine and food is about moments and memories, not scientific analyses or tasting notes. With this approach, he covers an under-appreciated side of wine and food writing. His undying curiosity and vast knowledge in wine as well as the combination of fresh and old memories keeps me coming back to his blog again and again. Thank you, John!

Torbreck “The Factor” 2001

“Somewhere, Beyond the Sea”

Torbreck "The Factor" 2001

Torbreck “The Factor” 2001

It is my honor and privilege to make another appearance on the pages of this popular wine blog.  My name is John and I write about wines as “The Wine Raconteur” and I am guest writing another article for my good friend Oliver at his request, while he and his wife are on holidays.  The word “raconteur” is an old way of saying a story teller, and most of my articles are woven around a memory and a wine, as I do believe that wine should be enjoyed and there should be a great memory of the occasion.   As I stated in my other guest article, Oliver gave me the theme of “Beyond, The Sea” and I have presumed that he meant that I write about a non-domestic (American) wine.   Since my last article was across the pond about a French wine Chateau Latour 1961 a famed wine from the Commune of Pauillac of the Medoc, I thought I would traverse the other body of water and discuss a wine from the Barossa Valley in South Australia, Australia.

I was managing a clothing store, that was popular at the time, and we had plenty of customers that not only enjoyed quality clothing, but also quality wines.  This was a major “pro” for the store, but unfortunately there were a few more “cons” to this establishment, but that is not germane to my story.  There were always some beverages on hand for the customers, and there were times when the customers brought in their selection to share as well.  One memorable day a customer brought in two different vintages of Opus One wine from Napa Valley, suffice it to say that it was a great day, but not business wise per se.  Let me just add, that one of my unlisted duties when I was hired was the ability to wash and maintain a collection of crystal wine glasses, as we had both stemmed and stem-less wine goblets for the customers.   Thankfully most of the customers that drank beer did not require a glass.  Sometimes there were discussions about wine and other subjects, with the least interest in adding to one’s wardrobe at the moment, but that was a rare time.  I have found that the subject of wine is a great “ice-breaker” when meeting new people and it is popular discussion point and that some people have very strong opinions of certain wines and areas.

As I sit here looking at a wooden box which is my temporary muse, that at one time held a magnum of wine this is another story.  The marketing of magnums especially in individual wooden wine boxes, I think is a great plus, while it may add a small cost to the total package, I do believe it proclaims to the customer that yes, this wine should be taken seriously.  The wine was a Torbreck “The Factor” 2001 from the Barossa Valley in South Australia.  Torbreck Vintners, the winery was founded by David Powell in 1994 and he signed the back label of the magnum near the numbering of number 195 out of a count of 240 magnums that were bottled of this wine.  Mr. Powell named his winery after the Torbreck forest in Scotland.  The wine “The Factor” was his homage to the great old Shiraz vines of the Barossa Valley and one of the mainstays of most of the wineries of this area.  The manager on a Highland estate is referred to as “The Factor,” hence the proprietary name.  This particular varietal grows well in several parts of the world, but I must say that Australia has been a big promoter of this type of wine, and now other areas have also had great results with it as well.  One of the reasons that this wine is so full and rich in flavor is that it spent twenty-four months in French Oak barrels with thirty percent of them being new.  This is not a wine that was made for quick consumption, as the nuances and traits of these old vines were allowed to mature in the barrels properly.  Torbreck Vintners also produces several other varietals as well as some other “named” wines.

As my regular readers know, I tend to soak off labels and store them in scrapbooks as an easy way to remember wines that I have enjoyed.  Also many other labels have become the “wallpaper” on a couple of walls in my cellar as well.  This particular set, alas though empty now, has been kept intact as a curio in my cellar and a great talking point.  I guess my collecting interest goes beyond just cellaring and drinking wines with good friends.

“We’ll meet, I know we’ll meet.  Beyond the shore.”

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2009 Macquariedale Hunter Valley Late Picked Semillon

The black pirate

The final wine and black pirate at our Michigan vs. Mosel Riesling Tasting came from Australia, and was brought by a friend who had just arrived from Australia. She knows Nina’s and my love for wine, and she pretty much nailed it earlier this year when she brought this wine for us…

It was only after the tasting that I dove a bit further into the winery. On its website, the owners state that Ross and Derice McDonald started planting some vines in 1993 as an escape out of Sydney’s corporate world…interesting. In 1998 they went in all the way by moving to their Hunter River property from Sydney. They now own 15 hectares of vineyards and claim to make biodynamic/organic wines. I know organic wine making is quite the rage for a lot of consumers these days. I am fine with drinking organic wines, but it would never be my main criterion in buying a wine. A wine has to taste good first and foremost. If that can be combined with less intrusive methods of growing, that is fine with me. What I do not like is that equation of organic = good. To their credit, Mcquariedale does not seem to push that point too hard.

They grow shiraz (it is an Australian winery after all!), cab sav, merlot, semillon, chardonnay and verdelho grapes.

The wine description on their homepage reads as follows: “Our late picked Semillon is produced in a light style with hints of citrus peel and marmalade on the palate.  The semillon grapes are left to ripen on the vine and then fermented briefly to retain all the natural acidity and sweetness.  The wine will age gracefully and deepen in colour and flavour with extended cellaring.”

Here are my tasting notes. The wine poured in a deep orange color, and was highly viscose, as was to be expected by a fortified dessert wine. The nose had prominent pumpkin and clove aromas, then dried apricots and overripe cantaloupe. On the palate, the first and slightly overwhelming note was honey. As the earlier detected pumpkin and clove came in, so did some hints of sweet potato. I hardly noticed any acidity at all. The finish had an interesting touch with slight salty notes in the end.

I have to say, this wine did not grow on me. It was just too sweet without redeeming acidity. The pumpkin and cloves aroma did not help, because I am not fond of pumpkin pie at all (hey, I am not American, I do not have to like pumpkin pie!). I think the craftsmanship is there, and I bet there are many that like this type of dessert wine, some of the vin santo I tried in Italy was of similar style. I am just spoiled by my riesling BA, TBA and ice wines…

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Michigan vs. Mosel Riesling Tasting with friends

The Michigan vs. Mosel tasting line up

Last Friday (a week ago, I know…) we had our first just-tasting with friends at our place. I have written about my thoughts on doing tastings with friends here. The idea for this tasting was born a while back. Me being the Mosel riesling snob that I am, I have only made small progress into the Michigan riesling scene. Some of them I liked or was intrigued by (see for example here or here or here), some of them, well…Now, two friends of ours got married recently and they decided to spend their honeymoon in and around Traverse City, Michigan’s riesling mecca. While we were talking about that trip, we decided to do a comparison tasting. They had brought some stuff back, and we had some Mosel rieslings to share. We also invited another riesling nut to the tasting, who falls in love with virtually every riesling we serve her, which makes me feel good. And another friend, who was crashing with us, participated as well. To lessen the suspense: We had a blast. We had so much fun, and the comparison went quite well. If we had done that tasting blind, I don’t know whether I would have been able to pick which ones are from there.

Some cork art. It does not get much fancier…

Here is our line up:

1) 2010 Chateau Grand Traverse Riesling Dry (Michigan)

2) 2011 Brys Estate Dry Riesling (Michigan)

3) 2009 Karl Erbes Erdener Treppchen Spätlese halbtrocken (semi-sweet) (Mosel)

4) 2006 St. Julian Riesling (Michigan)

5) 2011 Left Foot Charley Missing Spire Riesling (Michigan)

6) 2011 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett (Mosel)

7) 2009 Hohe Domkirche Trier Scharzhofberger Spätlese (Saar)

8) 2009 Macquariedale Hunter Valley Late Picked Semillon (Australia)

In blind tastings, it is fun to throw a wine in that not necessarily fits the restrictions on the wines that you imposed prior to tasting. It is something outside the box, to throw you off, and to make the blind tasting even more fun. We usually referred to these as black pirates. The black pirate in this tasting was the Australian dessert wine, which was brought by the friend crashing with us.

But to my thoughts on the wines:

The Michigan line

First up, the 2010 Chateau Grand Traverse Riesling Dry. I do like their semisweet standard wine and their Late Harvest Riesling, so I was excited about trying the dry. Upon opening and pouring, a dark yellow wine showed itself which was bit confusing. Did not expect that from a young dry wine. The nose showed ripe fruit, but not much of it. On the palate, the first noticeable taste was bitterness. There was some slight peach, but hardly discernible. The wine felt quite alcoholic (which was confirmed when we checked the label: 12.5% ABV). The short finish was topped by a burnt taste. In short, it was quite the disappointment. I could never have guessed this was a riesling if tasted blindly, and it seemed way past its prime already.

(Addendum: I received word from the winery in the comments section that the discoloration in the 2010 CGT Riesling Dry indicates that the wine was actually flawed, either by a bad cork or bad storage…I guess I could have guessed that given that I got all the clues: wrong color, bitter notes and burnt taste; I just did not make the connection when tasting.)

Next in line, the 2011 Brys Estate Dry Riesling. The color was lighter straw, with a nose of ripe fruit, peaches and sugar, slightly confusing in a dry wine. The texture was lovely, it gave you a silky mouthful of wine. It had a nice amount of acidity, and first fruit notes I discovered were grapes, yellow apples, pineapple and then citrus. While holding on to my glass and continuing to try, I thought I discerned some vegetable notes in the beginning (maybe squash, maybe zucchini). The wine had a nicely long finish. The 11% ABV were hardly noticeable. In short: This was delicious. It was fresh, and reminded me of German rieslings, albeit not a German dry riesling, it would have been an off-dry in Germany. Very nice wine!!

Up next, the 2009 Karl Erbes Erdener Treppchen Spätlese halbtrocken (semi-sweet). A tad higher in alcohol content than the Brys wine at 11.5% ABV, I was curious how these two would match up. The color was a light yellow with a nose of sweetness and yellow fruit, with ripe aromas. On the palate, the wine had a quite condensed feel to it. It tasted very ripe, older than a 2009 should taste. It had some apricots and vegetal notes, but I could not get over the fact that it might have been flawed. I did not detect a cork flaw, and if so, it was mild. But the wine tasted off. So I really do not feel like I can rate it.

The Mosel line

The next wine was the 2006 St. Julian Riesling. Our friend had been excited when she found the single bottle of this wine in a wine shop and bought it for us to try. She has been fond of older rieslings, and so we wanted to experience this together. Open opening the screw cap and pouring the wine, we saw a lighter, saturated yellow in our glasses. The nose was …mmmmh…. interesting? To me, it smelled of band aids. Others said glue. It also smelled quite musty. It was very unappealing. On the palate, that continued. The wine was clearly way past its prime, probably had been stored in horrible conditions…this one had been dead for a while.

St Julian 2006 – Stay away!

It was on the 2011 Left Foot Charley Missing Spire Riesling to redeem Michigan. And boy, it did!! Of very light and almost water color, it had a beautiful, beautiful nose of grapes and green grass. The taste was floral and herbal (I also wrote down perfumy, but I know that these descriptions do not really help…), with a wonderful creaminess to it. There were some hints of bitterness towards the end. The finish was rather short, though. I found this wine wonderfully refreshing. Its 43 grams of residual sugar and 9% ABV made it a great sipping wine. In its beauty, it did remind me of Prälat wines, but I might have gotten carried away, especially after the two disappointments we tried before. Nina disagreed with me on that assessment, and I suppose she is right.

By that time, we had brought out the cheeses, and that definitely enhanced the tasting as well. Nothing like sweeter rieslings and cheese…

Up next was the 2011 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett. At 8% ABV it had the typical alcohol content of a sweeter Mosel riesling, and I remembered it fondly from our tasting at the winery in June. The color was light straw and the nose had honey and a rather distinct grape note, very fresh. My tasting notes focused on my emotional response rather than the tastes. They read: “refreshing, sweet, honey, warm, nice acidity, deep, not very long, great with cheese”. I admit it, I had already had my fair share of wine, and my tasting capabilities went downhill. The wine just made me smile. It was just so pleasant.

This was followed by my highlight, the 2009 Hohe Domkirche Scharzhofberger Spätlese. You can find the review here (I needed more space for that).

We finished off with the 2009 Macquariedale Hunter Valley Late Picked Semillon from Australia, which is described here.

The black pirate

Like I said, it was a great experience. My cousin asked me who won. I really don’t feel like I can declare a winner here. The Brys and the Left Foot Charley were both pretty awesome wines, and so were the Erbes Kabinett and the Scharzhofberger. I think the biggest surprise for me was the quality of the Brys and the Left Foot Charley. They definitely convinced me that there is great riesling in Michigan and I am determined more than ever to go and find them.

Has anyone tried these wines or others from those wineries? Please share!!

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