Australia 2018

My girls are taking part in Panpapanpalya (one of the world’s largest gatherings of dancers, dance educators, and artists of all ages) through their Kaleidoscope Dance Company, and luckily for me, it takes place this year in Adelaide, Australia… handily an hour or less from the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, and Adelaide Hills wine producing regions. So… let’s go:

Wine Folly_Australia_South Australia
map credit:  Wine Folly

Barossa Valley // Monday, July 9, 2018
First stop: Elderton
Elderton owner, Cameron Ashmead, (in black) // Winery history>
Elderton winemaker, Richard Langford (in green)

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Next up: Kalleske 
Kalleske, est. 1853 // Biodynamic wines. Best value/quality producer

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Last stop: Henschke Winery
Henschke, one of the most prestigious wineries in the Barossa Valley

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McLaren Vale // Tuesday, July 10, 2018
First stop: D’Arenberg
The Cube is D’Arenberg’s info center. Also, the craziest urinals I’ve ever seen! The sheep are at work grazing, weeding & fertilizing the vineyards!

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Stopped by Maslin Beach with Mark (one of the other dancer dads) on the way back to Adelaide:

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Cleland Wildlife Conservation Park // Wednesday, July 11, 2018
A day off dance meant a trip to see the local wildlife! A kangaroo scratches its back on the ground just like a dog, btw!

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Adelaide Hills // Thursday, July 12, 2018
First stop: Shaw+Smith Winery
David LeMire, MW, was our host.

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Next stop: Sidewood
Pinot Noir vineyards with emus! Plus Seth Piszczuk, tasting room manager and our host. 

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On the way home: Largs Bay, Western Adelaide on the coast:
Many thanks to WineAustralia for setting up these tours! We’ve had a wonderful time!!

One more day to come… Barossa Valley again on Saturday, July 14. Stay tuned…


New Tasting Series: Grape Varietals A-Z

A-Z_logo_Jan 2014
Kicking off a new year, we thought it would be fun to do a comprehensive tasting series featuring as many single grape varietals as we carry in the shop. We counted them up. (There are 60+!) We put them in alphabetical order. And we’re ready to go! Here’s the schedule.  If you make a good chunk of these tastings, you will have tasted the vast majority of single grape varietals grown around the world today. We’ll offer a little educational overview on each grape including tasting notes & where it’s grown. The rest is up to you. Ready, set, go:

Tastings run every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday from bar open (4pm) to 8pm:
Tue, 14-Jan – Albariño ~ pictured above in the Outon vineyards in Rias Baixas, Spain
Wed, 15-Jan – Aligoté
Thu, 16-Jan – Arneis
Tue, 21-Jan – Barbera
Wed, 22-Jan – Blaufraenkisch
Thu, 23-Jan – Brachetto
Tue, 28-Jan – Cabernet Franc
Wed, 29-Jan – Cabernet Sauvignon
Thu, 30-Jan – Cannonau
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Tue, 4-Feb – Carmenère
Wed, 5-Feb – Chardonnay (France) ~ pictured above in Claude Nouveau’s vineyards
Thu, 6-Feb – Chardonnay (California)
Tue, 11-Feb – Chenin Blanc
Wed, 12-Feb – Cortese
Thu, 13-Feb – Dolcetto
Tue, 18-Feb – Garganega
Wed, 19-Feb – Garnacha Grenache
Thu, 20-Feb – Grauvernatsch (Schiava Grigio)
Tue, 25-Feb – Grüner Veltliner
Wed, 26-Feb – Inzolia
Thu, 27-Feb – Kerner
Tue, 4-Mar – Lagrein
Wed, 5-Mar – Malbec
Thu, 6-Mar – Melon de Bourgogne
Tue, 11-Mar – Merlot
Wed, 12-Mar – Montepulciano
Thu, 13-Mar – Moscato
Tue, 18-Mar – Muscat
Wed, 19-Mar – Nebbiolo ~ pictured above in the Pelassa vineyards of Piedmont, Italy
Thu, 20-Mar – Nerelo Mascalese
Tue, 25-Mar – Nero d’Avola
Wed, 26-Mar – Pedro Ximenez
Thu, 27-Mar – Petit Verdot
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Tue, 1-Apr – Petite Syrah
Wed, 2-Apr – Pineau d’Aunis
Thu, 3-Apr – Pinot Bianco
Tue, 8-Apr – Pinot Blanc
Wed, 9-Apr – Pinot Grigio
Thu, 10-Apr – Pinot Grigio
Tue, 15-Apr – Pinot Noir (France)
Wed, 16-Apr – Pinot Noir (Oregon)
Thu, 17-Apr – Pinotage
Tue, 22-Apr – Primitivo
Wed, 23-Apr – Prosecco
Thu, 24-Apr – Riesling
Tue, 29-Apr – Sangiovese
Wed, 30-Apr – Sauvignon Blanc (France)
BLOG_Jens in Australia_Shiraz grapes from Beachworth_Victoria_v4
Thu, 1-May – Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
Tue, 6-May – Semillon
Wed, 7-May – Shiraz ~ pictured above from Jens’ trip to Victoria, Australia
Thu, 8-May – Syrah (Old World)
Tue, 13-May – Syrah (New World)
Wed, 14-May – Tempranillo
Thu, 15-May – Torrontes
Tue, 20-May – Verdejo
Wed, 21-May – Vernaccia
Thu, 22-May – Viognier
Tue, 27-May – Welschriesling
Wed, 28-May – Zinfandel
Thu, 29-May – Zweigelt

This should be a lot of fun! Look forward to seeing you there!
Julie, Jens & the Portalis team

Staff “Dream Picks” for the 2012 Holiday Season

Three years ago I asked this question: If you could have any wine in the shop as a gift this December, which one would it be & why?  I decided it was time to pose the question again…

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Gina: What I wish Santa would bring me?? Pelassa 2007 Barolo! Why? I have such fond memories of my visit to this beautiful region and the gracious family that toils over the land to produce this world-class stunner! It has hints of rich balsamic in the nose with layers of black cherry & elegant tannins. A refined Barolo young, but what keeps you smiling with every sip is that you can taste its potential down the road…it is anything but tame! Plus ~ it would drink just dandy with our Christmas meal : ) So please Santa…

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Karli: The most religious of all wines: Chateauneuf du Pape! I’d pick: Domaine de Marcoux 2010

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Sky: The biggest one you’ve got from Australia: John Duval!

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Tracey: You know what I’m going to pick; the same thing I picked 3 years ago: Champagne. If I could have any bottle, I’d go with:  Michel Turgy NV Reserve Champagne Blanc de Blancs

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Jens: I’m going with Bordeaux. I could pick any wine I wanted to import via J. Strecker Selections and I picked: Château Franc Grâce-Dieu 2009 St-Emilion Grand Cru.  To be honest, I didn’t know its pedigree.  I was tasting through a lot of wine last spring when I was in Europe and I knew immediately this wine was killer for the price. But just in case you’re into predigree, it has a 300+ year history of winemaking and is located near Château Figeac (truly one of the greats in my opinion) and 2 kilometers down the road from Cheval Blanc. It’s prime real estate, and this wine with its lightly toasted flavors overlaying black currant & blackberries with a touch of pencil lead, ceder. Complex, well-balanced. It is a fantastic wine!

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JJ: Wow, that’s a tough one! Well, I really am in love with the Castelfeder Lagrein for obvious reasons, but if I get to step it up a notch, I’d go with the Sineann Pinot Noir! I love a lot of the Sineann wines for their relatively small production, hand harvesting of old vines, and their tremendous passion for producing a consistent high-end product.

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Travis: Red Burgundy. Gérard Raphet 2006 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru. The perfect food wine; fruit & acid are well-balanced.

There you have it!

Happy holidays & cheers,

A Little Bit about Syrah & Shiraz

Warner Vineyard Shiraz, Giaconda Winery, Beachworth, Victoria

First of all, this is the same grape – a dark grape with thick skin that needs a lot of heat to ripen.  It just has a different name, depending on where the grape is grown,  but because of the impact of the land, weather, altitude, soil & winemaking style of where the grape is grown, the use of Syrah or Shiraz has become indicative of the style of wine you will get.

It’s unclear where the grape originates, but it was first cultivated in France’s Rhône Valley.  Red wines from the Northern Rhône (Hermitage, Côtes Rôtie, St. Joseph & more) are mainly (up to 100%) Syrah (with up to 5% Viognier “to make things more interesting” Jens says).  They tend to be higher-end, require aging (due to the level of tannins) and are known for flavors of dark fruit, black olives and a notable gaminess. We don’t carry many Northern Rhône wines are they tend to be pricy and not easily accessible, but if you get the urge to try them out, they are wonderful, lesser-known examples French Syrah.

The vineyards of E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie, Northern Rhône

Reds from the Southern Rhône also have Syrah, but as a blend of Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre/Cinsault.  These wines are more accessible, a little juicier but still with a lovely, soft earthy spiciness, building from a nice, $12 straight-forward, bottle of Côtes du Rhône to a big, fuller-bodied, old world style Chateauneuf, which is full of liquorice, herbs, and meaty flavors.  Jens said that some of the old Chateauneuf houses are starting to produce a New World style which is super fruity, super oaky … and a big disappointment if you’re a traditionalist and like wines to taste like where they’re from.

Vines growing next to rosemary (Baumes-de-Venise, Southern Rhône)

Australian Shiraz is a big boy due to the hotter climate of the regions where it is grown, most famously the Barossa Valley (although it must be noted that many of the more nuanced (and often not available in Seattle) wines are from lesser-known, less hot areas.  Jens was in Australia last Februrary, a guest of the Australia Wine Commission for a tour of Victoria Pinot Noir country, but he still had the pleasure of visiting several areas growing top notch Shiraz, e.g. the Giaconda Winery located in Beachworth, north-east Victoria (note the photo – top).  For Shiraz (available in Seattle) that show off big, well-balanced wine with the nuance of minty herb that can be Australia’s lovely touch, try: D’Arenberg 2008 Laughing Magpie or for a splurge D’Arenberg 2006 The Dead Arm Shiraz, both from the McLaren Vale Valley & both with a touch of Viognier. An excellent example of 100% Shiraz from the Barossa Valley is John Duval 2007 Entity Shiraz.

South Africa is making some notable Shiraz as well.  Still big and dark, they use a yeast additive in fermenting that gives the wine a special smoky flavor.  Neil Ellis (known for his Pinotage) makes a tasty, as well Boekenhoutskloof (calling it Syrah) makes a beautiful 100% Syrah.

Last, I will end with the wonderful & varied Syrah coming out of our home state.  Washington State sits at the same latitude as the Rhône Valley, so it enjoys many of the same growing conditions, and its Syrah is known for its dark fruit flavors of black currant & blackberry with some nuance of black pepper, licorice, clove, thyme, sandalwood & cedar.  WA growers don’t seem to differentiate style by the use of Syrah vs Shiraz on the label, but both styles are readily available (usually called Syrah), from what could be called the “hedonistic pleasure bomb” (as quoted from our friend Catherine Reynolds) style. Wonderful examples of this style are Chris Sparkman Darkness Syrah, Mark Ryan Lost Soul Syrah, Owen Roe Ex Umbris, Darby The Dark Side Syrah.  In the other camp you have a leaner, more subdued, arguably more complex wine, with notable examples including Efeste Syrah Jolie Bouche & wines by Chuck Reininger.

Other notable around the world Syrah:  California offers up some excellent examples of Syrah.  Darioush is perhaps the best known. We currently serve one by the glass at the bar: Qupé.  As well Novy has, through the years, produced a nice quaffable, well-priced Syrah.  Argentina, while known for Malbec, has several producers offering up exceptional Syrah, try: Benegas 2006 Syrah from Mendoza.

It’s the time of year for these wines, so come pick out a few and go exploring!


Last Day in Australia ~ Sydney

Our last day was the only one that didn’t focus entirely on wine.  The team was very excited. We took off from Melbourne to Sydney for one last wine meeting, this one with Chris Hancock & Darren Jahn from Robert Oatley Vineyards. We were treated to lunch at the Flying Fish on Pier 21, Jones Bay, which is surrounded by breathtaking views of Sydney & Darling Harbor. On the menu was a variety of seasonal local seafood. The food was out of this world. The highlights included oysters, sashimi (as fresh as it gets), seared yellow fin tuna with red grapefruit, sweet crackling pork & black pepper caramel, as well as mud crab with a black pepper curry leaf sauce & more…

After lunch, we had late afternoon, evening & night to ourselves to explore Sydney. We took the ferry to Manly Beach. On that ride we had wonderful views of the Harbor, the Opera & the Harborbridge. Manly Beach was beautiful, filled with lots of surfers.

Harbour Bridge

Sydney Opera House

Back in Sydney we had dinner at a recommended sushi restaurant called Sake, located in “The Rocks” district. Again, wonderful seafood before we partied the night away.

This was an intense trip that I will always remember. It would have not been so unforgetable without such a great team! Thanks Dawn, Marie, Bob & Russ as well as to our driver, Brian, and Wine Australia which made this trip possible!

I will definitely be back!


Australia ~ Day 5: Bindi, kangaroos & more

The team was very excited. The reason: We were visiting one of the best, if not the best Pinot Noir winemaker of Australia, Michael Dhillon, owner & winemaker of the famous Bindi estate in the Macedon Ranges. The temperature dropped by 20 degrees over night & we had a misty, foggy kind of day. We were also slowly making our way back to Melbourne, where we would arrive in the evening.

Turning onto the Bindi Estate, the scenery had the effect of something out of the Jurassic Park movie: open fields, surrounded by large trees & kind of a jungle forest with undefined creatures in the mist. We saw 20 to 30 kangaroos before we were greeted by one of Australia’s greatest small producers: Michael Dhillon (below right)

The estate vineyards & the small winery (founded in 1988) were a treasure. After getting a tour through the vineyards & the property we had the pleasure of tasting some amazing barrel samples of the 2010 Estate Chardonnay, 2010 Quartz Chardonnay, 2010 Composition Pinot Noir, 2010 Quartz Pinot Noir & 2009 Original Pinot Noir.

Highlights in the bottle: 
Bindi 2009 Composition Pinot Noir ~ Very inviting nose of fine raspberries, ripe black cherries, spice & herbs. Phenomenal Structure & texture. Well-balanced, extracted & a little creamy. Great acidity through the beautiful finish.

Bindi 2009 Block 5 Pinot Noir ~ Most fragrant, aromatic, with red & black fruit. Intense, powerful, but velvety & silky with beautiful red & black fruit. Lots of raspberries & cherries. Going all the way through a long, lingering finish.

Pumped up after visiting one of the trip’s highlights, we took off for a 45 minute ride to Curly Flat. A pretty modern facility specializing in Pinot Gris, Chardonnay & Pinot Noir it was founded in 1991. We got a warm welcome from owner & winemaker Philip Moraghan who gave us a wonderful tour of the winery which is located 75 miles north of Melbourne.

During lunch (salad & lamb) we tasted through a wonderful line-up & experienced Philip’s winemaking philosophy: good wine comes from good fruit & the grapes from the vineyard determine the quality of the wine. The winemaker is the custodian of nature. Some highlights were the 2008 Chardonnay, the 2008 William’s Crossing Pinot Noir and:

Curly Flat 2007 Pinot Noir ~ Plum, dark cherry & spicy aromas turning into a powerful palate with lots of dark & red fruit, raspberries & black cherries. Wonderful spice on the long finish.

Last winery on the way back to Melbourne was Craiglee which is actually more a sheep, lamb farm than a winery but Patrick Carmody does it all. We figured out on arrival that it was sheep shearing day. Lots going on there. The tasting room was something else. An old wooden tasting table was covered in spider-webs as were old bottles of wine which seemed to be opened years ago. Since establishing the winery in 1976, Patrick has made his name a producer of fine cool climate Shiraz. We tasted several vintages of Chardonnay.

The highlight:  Craiglee 1996 Chardonnay ~ This wine had still a lot of life. Vibrant acidity & fruit. Fantastic flavors of pear, melon, with some citus & lime notes.

We also tasted a vertical of 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2005, 2007 & 2008 Shiraz. Absolutely stunning Shiraz with consistent quality. The one which stuck out:

Craiglee 2000 Shiraz ~ Beautiful dark fruit , black plums upfront. Smooth, soft, velvety texture. Wonderful dark fruit with black plums, prunes, blackberries & blueberries with spicy & herbal notes with soft tannins on the long finish. Still great acidity. Could still age for 10 more years.

After that experience we were definitely ready for some “Aussie culture” & life again in the big city.  Good thing we were heading back to Melbourne. Dropped our bags & went straight to Chinatown experiencing the Chinese New Year Celebration before we had a rather fancy dinner with 8+ winemakers at Press Club in Melbourne. 

One more day to go … Good night!

Australia ~ Day 4 (on the road) ~ Jasper Hill & more

Leaving Rutherglen, we did a pit-stop at Parker pies for breakfast: Kangaroo Pie, Parker Pie (their secret savory recipe), etc…pretty tasty!
Off we went to Tahbilk Winery, one of the oldest ones we visited, founded in 1860. Some of the vineyards are still from this original year. We met Neil Larson, chief winemaker since 1991, who gave us an extended tour through the old cellars & an overview of the winery. His highlights were the Marsanne vineyards from 1926/27 which are still producing some very interesting wines.

After a big lunch we headed off to Shelmerdine Heathcote. A rather new winery, founded in 1989 in the Heathcote region, co-produced by De Bortoli. Highlights were a crisp Riesling & a Cabernet Sauvignon:

Shelmerdine 2010 Riesling ~ Crisp, fine citrus fruit, with hints of apricot & peach. Great acidity & texture. Fresh, lingering finish.

Shelmerdine 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ~ Bright red & dark fruit up-front. Good acidity, complexity & elegance. Wonderful flavors of red & black fruit, with lots of blackberries & cassis flavors. Focused, bright, fresh, with gentle spices.

Further on we went to Heathcote Estate, owned by Yabby Lake. Tom Carson, who was head-winemaker at Yering Station for 10 years & has now been chief-winemaker for Yabby Lake, Heathcote Estate & Cooralook since 2008, was the next person we met in Heathcote.

A charming, very focused winemaker, he led us through some stunning wines:
Heathcote Estate 2008 Shiraz ~ Powerful Shiraz, with packed flavors of dark fruit, blackberries, blueberries & ripe dark plums. Dark, rich, dense & ripe fruit with some nuances of cedar & spice.

Heathcote Estate 2006 Grenache ~ Green leaf, eucalytus aromas. Warm, soft, but rich texture, with spicy flavors of raspberries & blackberries all the way through a lingering finish. Long, deep, & powerful.

After that we took off to meet Ron Laughton of Jasper Hill, one of the best-known “cult” winemakers in Australia.

His wines are highly regarded as some of the best in Australia & I agree; they were gorgeous. The first vintage was in 1982 with very low yields. Every estate vineyard is biodynamically farmed which makes these wines even more amazing. The special Cambrian soil (which is very red, grained basalt, lots of iron) gives these wines a special note!

Jasper Hill 2009 Cornelia Vineyard ~ Fantastic red fruit aromas upfront. Clean purity. Well-balanced, elegant, superb acidity & concentration. Wonderful red & black fruit, raspberries & blackcherries. Long finish, with fine tannins.

Jasper Hill 2009 Shiraz Georgia Poddock Vineyard ~ Beautiful aromatics. Dark, ripe plums, with herbal components. Superb balance, acidity & concentration. Very elegant, compex. Good fresh, dark fruit. Dark plums, blackberries & blueberries. Some spicy & smoky notes on the finish. Fine Tannins.

Off we went to our lovely accommodation: The Emu Inn, where we had supper with 8 more wineries.

Keep posted …2 more days to go!