On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

Bleasdale - The Zoom Tasting

13 May 2021

(February 2021) ... During these Co-Vid times it's nice to be invited to anything and Azureau Wine & Spirits (agent in Ontario, Canada) put together a dandy tasting with senior winemaker Paul Hotker, of Bleasdale Wines in Australia, on the zoom call to  talk about the wines and what makes them so unique when compared to the usual Aussie fare we see here in Ontario (and in many other places of the world); joining Paul is Robbie Potts - you'll figure out who he is as we go ...

First off, Bleasdale makes wine in the Langhorne Creek area of Australia, a place that is 10°C cooler than McLaren Vale - Langhorne is a pretty small place, making up only 6000 hectares of the total growing area of Australia; their average rainfall is 350 mm per year and they get 1520 heat degree days with an average temperature of 19.9°C.

Bleasdale was established as a winery in 1850, but the history really starts in 1836 when founder Frank Potts comes to Australia at the age of 21 ... By 1850 he had accumulated enough money to buy himself 120 acres to start a winery and for the first 100 plus years the winery made a name for themselves by making fortified wines. In 1961, the winery tried its hand at making a dry table wine, and as luck would have it, the first to come out was a Malbec; as Paul explained during the tasting, " Bleasdale is proud of its Malbec" and later during a tasting of the Broad-Side (reviewed below) he says "Malbec is the remedy to all red wine maladies" ... Paul came out with some other great bon mots that I will attribute to him a little later in this piece.

Today, Bleasdale Winery is 170 years old and they have jettisoned much of their fortified beginnings, now making 85% red table wines - they are also the second oldest family owned winery in Australia (Yalumba Winery is one year older than they are). And while fortified is not their mainstay as it once was, In another way they have not strayed far from their beginning, size-wise they are now 130 acres of vineyard (up only 10 acres from starting point) - and Paul likes to refer to themselves as "gardeners at heart". The vineyard makeup is mostly red varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Malbec, Grenache, Petit Verdot, Carmenere, Merlot and Mataro with Verdelho being the only white variety, which they turn into fortified wine (still staying close to their roots).

One of the things I noticed during the tasting was the beautiful acidity, which seems to be a hallmark of these wines - wonderful for food and a departure from what one is used to from Australian wine:  "When you've got beautiful fruit just pick it", Paul said – that is his philosophy and that's how he makes his wines.

The Wines ...

Wild Fig2020 The Wild Fig
“It doesn't have to be complicated it's just a drink." – Paul

This Shiraz (67%), Grenache (23%), Mourvedre (10%) - might seem like an Aussie staple blend, but this one sees only 6 months in aged French oak puncheons and stainless steel, which helps to maintain the freshness: white pepper, cassis, raspberry, along with spicy notes and good acidity all materialize from the get-go ... As it sits open the red fruit comes out adding in some nice red licorice notes.  (*** ½+)

2018 Broad-Side
“2018 is all about the palate, then the perfume." – Paul

A big load of Shiraz (70%) followed by dollops of Cabernet Sauvignon (22%) and an even smaller dollop of Malbec (8%) spending 9 months in seasoned French and American oak puncheons and hogsheads Mulberry and Broadside- with only 10% new. Leads with spicy notes followed by dark fruit: blueberry, raspberry, black cherry and a lovely seam of acidity. As it sits open everything kind of smooths out and that finish becomes all cocoa, black cherry and pepper with a raspberry linger.  (****)

2018 Mulberry Tree, Cabernet Sauvignon
With the addition of 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc this wine begs the question: is Australia only able to make over-the-top reds? And the answer is: not if you taste this Mulberry Tree Cabernet. Gentle cassis, blackberry & even some tea leaf notes – it opens nicely doling out good acidity for balance, plus loads of fruit and a little bit of eucalyptus (pretty typical for Australian Cab) ... This one could easily be mistaken for a well-balanced northern or high-altitude Chilean or Argentinian Pinot then an Aussie Cab – but that's something I like.  (****)

2016 The Iron Duke, Cabernet Sauvignon Iron Duke
This Cabernet is only made in “great” Cab years and in limited quantities (five barrels for the 2016) - it is a best barrel selection, from the best vineyards (of which there is a choice of six). It then spends 12 months in French puncheon and hogsheads with 25% being new. The nose starts off with a lovely savoury element with herbal and dark fruit notes; the palate is lovely with its dark fruit and spice, and spice, and spice (it's quite spicy) - there's also an oaky note, but it does not overwhelm and should dissipate with age. It's interesting (read: almost weird) when you expect jammy and instead get savoury, acidity and spice; but also very welcome.  (****)

2015 The Powder Monkey Shiraz
“We are not here to sell barrels, we're here to sell wine.” – Paul

Powder MonkeyThis is a five-barrel Shiraz that's vineyard is located just behind the cellar, planted to three clones and pruned using various methods. The first vintage of this special wine was 2008 and was NOT made in 2011, 2017 or 2020. Originally the fruit was going into the Broad-Side, but Paul used to lunch in the vineyard with his family and noticed something special about it ... So, he started his tests and voila the wine was made. Beautiful dark fruit from beginning to end: black cherry, blackberry, cassis with black pepper and that good acid seam Bleasdale is known for, plus a lovely spice note on the finish. Speaking of the finish it is medium in length and both jammy and savoury.  (****+)

NV Sparkling Shiraz
Sparkling ShirazEasily the best sparkling Shiraz I have had in a long, long time - many would think the style dead (or at least a dying breed), but Bleasdale continues to make its exceptionally well and in it their own style. In 1997 they had a big Shiraz year and needed to do something with the excess grapes ... Since that day they have kept the base but freshened it by adding the new vintage of Shiraz into it (a modified solera system) ... They then bottle a batch, usually "pre-Christmas" - they double their volume every year and even do half bottles. It is also interesting to note that Langhorne is too warm for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. When you have an opportunity to pick up this bottle, I would recommend it highly.  (****)

The Screwcap Nautical Theme...
Each Bleasdale screw cap top has a nautical wheel on the top: at 9 years of age Frank Potts was part of the Royal Navy and at 13 he took his first voyage where he ran gunpowder from below deck to the guns - he did this till he was 17 years of age - the job was called a “powder monkey”, and to pay homage to that time the vessel steering wheel adorns the top of each bottle.




Errazuriz Zoom Tasting

24 Apr 2021

(November 2020) …

An Overview ... Errazuriz is a wine company that dates back to 1870 in Chile and founded by Don Maximiano - a name that still appears prominently on their wines and labels in one form or another – plus, fun fact, the Errazuriz family has been the source of four Chilean presidents. In 1873 they release their first wine. In the 1890's the winery has 700 hectares under vine and is the world's largest privately held vineyard.

The winery has not always been in operation, because of the socialist government regulations from 1933 into the 70's the winery closed its doors and was not fully resurrected until 1983, when Edouardo Chadwick joined his father who then handed him the keys to the winery. it is then that the winery really took off with new ideas and a new vision under this new leadership. At that time the winery was re-opened it was a small 10 hectare farm, today it's a 500 hectare winery based in the Aconcagua Valley.

Today’s tasting is with Francisco Baettig, and as luck would have it, Edouardo joins in - during the times of Co-Vid it's amazing the kind of time one has on one's hands that one would not have during busier (read: more normal). The tasting consists of three wines (two from 2018 and a 2017) plus an overview of the “extraordinary” 2018 vintage.

2018 in Chile...

Aconcagua Valley

Considering that Chile is one of the best places to grow grapes on the planet, it’s impressive to hear a winemaker to make the statement "2018 is one of the best vintages in a long time, all factors and variations aligned,” said Francisco. Usually, January is blisteringly hot and vines have a tendency to shut down (more than once) but in 2018 January proved to be “moderate” with no real heat spikes, while February, March and April were average.

Today's three wine tasting started with a MAX - the new look for the former Max Reserva - and it is a beauty; followed by a new wine to the lineup MAX VIII and the flagship Don Maximiano.

Max - former reservaMAX 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
Considered one of the “best vintages in a along time”, which is saying something for Chile, a country that has great vintages all the time – this truly might be the best Max I have tried (and not just because it is under a new name – changed from Max Reserve midway through the 2018 vintage).  Dominated by dark fruit with a little floral and some cocoa notes – nice complexity with a long finish.  Rating: ****+
LCBO 335174 ...

See the video review here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-FPn4xNY6g

MAX VIII 2018 Max Viii
Takes its name from the vineyards the grapes come from - the grapes are sourced from all eight of the Errazuriz vineyards in the Aconcagua Valley. The blend is 43% Syrah followed by 15% each of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Carmenere, 8% Grenache and 7% Mourvedre; aged 16 months in French oak (only 28% new). The wine itself comes across smooth with lots of red fruit - the acidity keeps it lively and fresh with some delicate floral notes on the nose; the palate is well rounded with white pepper contributing yet another verse in this cacophony of aromas of flavours. The tannins are present, but they seem to lie more on the silky side than on the gritty side ... It's a layered and lovely wine destined to get better over the next three to five years.  Rating: ****

Don Maximiano 2017
From the very hot 2017 vintage which was a concentrated and early vintage which Francesco called "extreme” ... The Maximiano used to be a Cabernet Sauvignon only wine, but has now transitioned into a Cabernet Sauvignon blend - this version contains 12% Malbec, 8% Carmenere, 7% Petit Verdot and 6% Cabernet Franc, aged 22 months in French oak (72% new). Over the two days I tried this wine it never seemed to come together - starting out leathery, smokey and herbal ... The tannins come across as firm with lots of dark fruit backing, but there is a real grip to the wine with a real leathery finish; plus burnt coffee bean and cedar. It comes across harsh and my fear is that it never does fully realize itself to reach its full potential due to that extreme vintage (and that whack of new oak). Time will tell, but I reserve judgment and score at this time ... Maybe if I taste a bottle again in 5 years or so I'll have a better handle on things. But right now, I think the combination of both the extreme vintage and the maximal use of oak has hurt this wine for the long run.
No score at this time


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