Accent on Aussie wines

There’s something about an Australian accent that makes me smile. It’s not only the melodic rhythm and the tempo of the talk but also the “twisted” (to this American) pronunciation of the words. Throw in a few funny words like “stickies,” which refers to the fortified wines Port and Sherry, and it’s nothing less than a cross-cultural English discovery.  

There’s also something about the wines of Australia that makes me want to sit up, lean forward and taste. Just recently, I had the great opportunity to sit at the new and wonderful Rebelle restaurant in Lower Manhattan with Hentley Farm’s winemaker, Andrew Quin, and talk about — and taste — some of his wines.

Hentley Farm (hentleyfarm.com.au) is a Barossa Valley winery specializing in the production of high quality Shiraz as well as Grenache, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier and Riesling.  Owners Keith and Alison Hentschke have deep roots in the Barossa Valley. Keith’s ancestors arrived in the region in the mid-1800s and planted fruits and vegetables and some grape vines.  Fifth-generation agriculturist Keith grew up on a farm and was put in charge of a small vineyard, where he planted his ambition and charted his course. He studied agricultural science and wine marketing and researched suitable grape- growing plots in the region. In 1999, he and his wife bought a property that had once grown wine grapes but now needed a complete renovation and replanting. In 2004, they bought up an adjacent vineyard of high quality Shiraz vines where they now source their flagship Shiraz, Clos Otto. In 2008, it was clear they needed some additional winemaking talent and brought in Andrew Quin.  Quin had been looking for a boutique-style operation where he could hone his winemaking style and “create some of the best single vineyard and single block wines in our country.”

Quin greeted me with a glass of his 2015 Riesling. It was fresh and lively with a citrus fruitiness paired with tropical flavors resulting in a lovely textured mouthfeel that had length on the finish. His next pour was a bright and beautiful 2015 Rosé made from Grenache and Shiraz. The bright pink color told me a festive time awaited. This wine showed citrus lemony notes tempered by strawberry and fresh cherry. Then we were asked to take a seat at the table, each place setting containing 10 large wine glasses appropriately filled with two of Hentley Farm’s Shirazes — one called The Beauty and the other, The Beast. We had the opportunity to taste five vintages of each wine to compare the flavors that different soils, weather, temperatures, sun and wind exposure from a small area have on essentially the same grape.

The Beauty vineyard is at low altitude on the banks of a small river. The Beast vineyard is at a considerably higher altitude with clay and bluestone influencing the grapes. We tasted the 2004, ’05,  ’06, ’08 and ’09 of each wine. Vintages varied with some showing more red cherry flavors and others leaning toward dark cherry. The Beauty showed good acidity with fresh and fruity notes.  The Beast was more evolved with dark and aromatic fruit, hints of raisins and currants and black pepper all bound together with a textural silkiness. These wines are well-made and can be enjoyed straight away, or they can be put down in the cellar for at least a decade of development.

Next we tasted the 2014 Stray Mongrel which, at $28, is more affordable for the masses.  Showing fresh red fruits with a balanced spiciness, this wine was delicious.  Now we were properly ready for the aforementioned flagship Shiraz, the Clos Otto. We tasted the 2010 and ’12, which were both wildly generous with their flavors. The 2010 showed ripe currants and dark cherry with a backbone of oak influence providing leather and chocolate. The 2012 had fresh and lively fruit, dark cherry and licorice with velvety tannins.  At $165 a bottle for the Clos Otto, these are special occasion wines. But they are both luscious and smooth, perfect for a night when a slight chill is in the air.

Hentley Farm’s other wines are priced considerably less, but still show the pedigree of a wonderful property paired with a passionate winemaker. Quin and company consider themselves to be “wine growers,” which is a farm-to-bottle euphemism. Great wines are made in the vineyard. Hentley Farm’s vineyards do not disappoint.

Write me at doug@dougpaulding.com.

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