Orange – Part 2: The tasting notes
Curiously, I’ve had the Ross Hill Cabernet Franc numerous times over the last 12 months, yet always seem to skip the most recent releases from the rest of the range. Glad to have rectified that situation.
The 2011 Pinnacle Series Shiraz ($40), which was again handpicked, wild fermented and had 40% whole bunches, looked also very fine, the white pepper Rotundone hit a nice counterpoint to what is a pinot-esque, red cherry palate. Lovely fine tannins punctuated this red, the mid-weight style a very clever iteration of modern cool climate Shiraz.
Interestingly, the 2011 Pinnacle Series Pinot Noir ($36) didn’t carry that same composure, the wine carrying the slightly heavy, bacony, dry reddish style that some of the Orange Pinots can show. Interestingly, this wine (as with much of the Pinnacle Series wines) drawn from the cool Gilbert rd vineyard (down the road from Bloodwood), which sits at 750-850m altitude and was described to me by another winemaker as a ‘minty site’ (make of that what you may) and not really suited to Pinot.
It is the 2010 Pinnacle Series Cabernet Franc ($36) which is perhaps the most widely talked about wine in this range, often considered amongst the best Francs in the country. I can certainly see why – it’s an impressively varietal Cabernet Franc in a nation not known for varietal Cabernet Franc. Personally, I was a little torn by it, as I do really like the redcurrant and hedgerow nose (no cinnamon this vintage though. Just in the 2009) and that sense of freshness to the palate. What I’m not as convinced by is the minty, slightly underripe tannins, which, ultimately, make for a somewhat awkward finish to what is otherwise a wonderfully distinctive wine.
Amongst the other Ross Hill wines, I thought the 2009 Pinnacle Series Vintage Brut ($36) was a bit broad, the 2012 Pinnacle Series Sauvignon Blanc ($27) nicely textural and defined, and the 2011 Pinnacle Series Botrytis Riesling ($22) a little simple and heavily botrytised but certainly packed some some intensity.
With more fruit coming on from the high (1050m) winery vineyard soon – and the promise of new super cool some promising wines to come with it – you can just feel that this is a winery on the up. Oh, and they also grow cherries, just in case you’re about in cherry season.
I ended up at De Salis on the back of a few recommendations really, as they have almost no presence in the retail/on premise market bar a few notable Sydney restaurants (Stu at Fix St James, Emma and crew at Rockpool on George amongst them), with over 90% of sales direct through the cellar door (or mailing list).
Charlie, like so many Orange vignerons, gave up on a Sydney life after catching the winemaking disease back in the 90s, with the end result of many years making wine in Sydney garages and the like, ultimately leading to the purchase of the (ideally situated) Lofty vineyard. It was not without trying to find this perfect site, with Charlie also coming close on several sites in Orange, particularly the neighbouring Forest Edge vineyard that supplies fruit to Brokenwood (although Charlie lost out there).
What excited him with the Lofty vineyard was the near perfect geography of the site – north facing, gently sloping and situated at 1050m on the northern side of Mt Canobolas, the vines planted in a basalt over limestone soil in 1993 by noted local plant man David Gartrell. While the vineyard’s initial (and indeed ongoing) focus was on Cabernet Franc and Merlot, it is Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wines that Charlie throws his soul into, a situation that leaves the vineyard’s large, arguably unsuitable (in my opinion), Merlot plantings in danger of grafting in the years to come.
The caveat for this entry is that Swinging Bridge’s winemaker, Tom Ward, is a friend, so naturally I was here more to chat with him than really to be digging through the Swinging Bridge range. Indeed, I’m not even the biggest fan of some of the standard Swinging Bridge wines, with the sub $20 whites just a little one-dimensional for me to really love.
I’m really glad that I managed to pop into Bloodwood, as this estate is the pioneering winery in Orange, with Rhonda and Stephen Doyle so intrinsically intertwined with Orange’s wine history that not talking about them is like going to the Hunter and not talking about the Tyrrell’s family.
The flashest cellar door, the most cleverly packaged wines, the biggest vineyard. You’d be forgiven for expecting quite generic wines at Philip Shaw, yet this stop was still entirely valid, if just to walk through the wines after so many more-boutique products. They stack up too, for a variety of reasons.