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Barton Grange
The characteristic reddish-brown soil of the top Barossa vineyards can be seen in this shot of Shiraz vines in Peter Smith's Barton Grange vineyard in the Ebenezer region ... along with brilliant La Sevillana roses at the end of each row.

Barossa Valley (Nov. 21-22)
For most wine lovers outside Australia, the Barossa Valley may be one of the most familiar wine-place names from Down Under. Perhaps best known among U.S. wine lovers for its massive Shirazes, full of fruit and oak and alcohol and touched with the region's characteristic mint and eucalyptus aromas, Barossa also produces some more subtle wines ... even whites.

Henschke
Proprietor Stephen Henschke, the descendant of the early German-immigrant wine growers who came to the Barossa during the last century as refugees from religious persecution in Silesia, gave us a tour of his family's historic winery - one that remains small and family owned but that has earned a worldwide reputation for excellence.

Starting with a tour of the cellars, we sampled a couple of Shirazes from barrel as Stephen sought to show us the remarkable difference that "trellising" - the way grapevines are pruned in the vineyard - can make in the finished wine.

.08ME ABD Control barrel sample - This sample came from grapes grown on traditional vines, in which the growth is trained up on horizontal wires but then allowed pretty much to take its own course. At this point in its evolution, spicy American oak was more predominant than fruit, but the fruit was certainly there, plummy, spicy and very ripe.

Barrel sample using Scott Henry trellising - This relatively new trellising technique, which we had also seen at Kerr Farm near Auckland and would see again here and there in Australia, involves labor-intensive pruning in which the vine branches are trained to spread upward and downward, placing the grape bunches on a vertical plane that offers them full exposure to sunlight. This sample showed more fruit than oak; the Scott Henry technique seemingly produced a substantially more fruity and open wine.

Then we returned to the tasting room for samples of Henschke's current range.

Henschke 1999 "Louis" Eden Valley Semillon - bright brass, lovely melon and mandarin orange. Full and crisp, good balance. $19.80

Henschke 1999 Littlehampton Innes Vineyard Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris - pears and citrus. Cleansing and steely, a fine food wine. $25.30

Henschke 2000 Eden Valley Sauvignon Blanc Semillon - Grassy tropical fruit and a whiff of chile peppers. Flavors consistent, ripe and fresh. $19.80

Henschke 2000 "Julius" Eden Valley Riesling - Fresh apple blossom and lime aromas lead into a crisp and fresh flavor, off-dry and refreshing. $22

Henschke 2000 Lenswood Green's Hill Riesling - pale brass, mango and aromatic conifer; full and ripe, acidic lift in the finish. $22.70

Henschke 2000 Eden Valley Joseph Hill Gewürztraminer - Delicious litchees, ripe and unctuous; nearly dry, slight bitter finish. $25.30

Henschke 1999 Lenswood "Giles" Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir - Rather light ruby; spicy red fruit, soft and approachable. $37.25

Henschke 1999 Johann's Garden Barossa Valley Bush Vines Grenache Merlot Shiraz - nice earthy raspberry, soft and fruity. $30

Henschke Henschke 1997 Keyneton Estate Eden Valley/Barossa Valley Shiraz Cabernet Malbec - dark ruby. Quite earthy, spicy and ripe. Mouth-filling and balanced. $28.70

Henschke 1997 Abbot's Prayer Adelaide Hills Merlot - Herbal black fruit, berrylike and tart. $53

Henschke 1997 Mount Edelstone Eden Valley Shiraz - menthol, pepper and ripe black fruit, structured and full; a delight. $53

Henschke 1997 Cyril Henschke Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Cabernet Franc - Dark ruby. Cassis and tarragon, forward and appealing. Structured and complex, delicious. $84.80

Henschke 1996 Hill of Grace Shiraz - Henschke's signature wine, highly sought-after and very hard to acquire; big and ripe, full and complex, opens up in layers. A great treat.

Peter Lehmann
Peter Lehmann's chief wine maker, Andrew Wigan, sets up a vertical tasting of several of the winery's top bottlings.
Peter Lehmann
With a quick hello to Margaret Lehmann and exchanging greetings with a group of traveling Scandinavian journalists herded through on an Australian Wine Institute tour, we sampled a couple of impressive whites:

Peter Lehmann 1995 The Barossa Reserve Riesling - Impressive petrol, apple and pine. Full, structured, steely fruit.

2000 Blue Eden Eden Valley Riesling - Newly released, in striking packaging featuring an aboriginal art design. Lime and apples, crisp and fresh, very pleasant wine.

Then we joined Chief Winemaker Andrew Wigan and moved to the quieter surroundings of the wine maker's tasting room for "vertical" tastings of several Lehmann specialties.

Peter Lehmann The Barossa 2000 Semillon - Pale brass, fresh melon, rather shy. Soft, full, a sweet touch of honey finishes dry and tart.

Peter Lehmann The Barossa 1999 Semillon - Clear light greenish-gold. Pears and a hint of wool; good texture and snappy acidity.

Peter Lehmann 1994 Barossa Semillon - Bright brass, honey and almond aroma and flavor, unctuous but balanced.

Peter Lehmann 1992 Barossa Valley Semillon Wood-Matured - Bright gold. Chestnuts and oak, rich and sweet.

Peter Lehmann 1990 Barossa Valley Semillon Wood-Matured - Bright gold. Chestnuts and mace, delicious and balanced, honey, beeswax and spice.

Peter Lehmann 1990 Barossa Valley Shiraz - Inky ruby. Soft black fruit and spice.

Peter Lehmann 1992 Barossa Shiraz - Very dark ruby, subtle menthol and pepper over ripe black fruit.

Peter Lehmann 1994 The Barossa Shiraz - Opaque. Minty eucalyptus and plums. Big, peppery and structured.

Peter Lehmann 1996 The Barossa Shiraz - Black. Fragrant pepper and juicy plums. Soft and spicy, tart finish.

Peter Lehmann 1998 The Barossa Shiraz - Opaque. Brooding black fruit. Remarkably full, deep and textured.

Eight Songs 1996 Barossa Shiraz - Complex pepper and mint. Full and ripe.

Eight Songs 1997 Barossa Shiraz - Closed and tight nose but very generous on the palate.

Eight Songs 1998 Barossa Shiraz (for release next year) - Earthy, dark chocolate aroma and flavor.

Peter Lehmann 1989 Stonewell Barossa Shiraz - Fragrant pepper and delicious ripe black fruit.

Peter Lehmann 1991 Stonewell Barossa Shiraz - Delicious spice, flavor and fruit. Huge, lingering.

Peter Lehmann 1994 Stonewell Barossa Shiraz - Black fruit and subtle spice. Full but refined.

Peter Lehmann 1995 Stonewell Barossa Shiraz - Rather closed. Minty black fruit, more generous on the palate.

Peter Lehmann 1996 Stonewell Barossa Shiraz - Menthol and black fruit, full and ripe.

Peter Lehmann 1998 Stonewell Barossa Shiraz - Minty eucalyptus, peppery fruit, very young but a lot of potential based on concentration and fruit.

Yalumba Yalumba
Moving quickly along, we made a cellar-door (tasting room) stop at Yalumba, a winery I know best for its dessert wines Clocktower and Galway Pipe "Port." Although the trademark clocktower (right) is still very much on hand, I was surprised to learn that Yalumba has sold these brands to another company and no longer makes them. They produce plenty of other wines, though:

Yalumba "D" Black 1996 Sparkling Cabernet Shiraz - deep fruit, foamy fizz. Dry and tart. $25.65

Hill-Smith Estate 2000 Eden Valley Sauvignon Blanc - very pale, good green-chile aroma. Full and ripe, green olive and white fruit. $14.45

Heggies Vineyard 2000 Eden Valley Riesling - Apple and lime, crisp and fresh, bone-dry. $14.30

Pewsey Vale 2000 Eden Valley Riesling - Cooking apples, juicy and ripe; prickly-petillant. fresh fruit, very tart finish. $12.30

Yalumba 1999 Eden Valley Viognier - Pale straw. Earthy, cheesy, wet wool, aromatic and tart. $18

Heggies Vineyard 1998 Eden Valley Pinot Noir - Spicy, minty red fruit. Minty and light. $21.45

Yalumba 1999 Barossa Bush Vine Grenache - Light garnet. Shy berries, vinous alcohol; fruity and soft, tart finish. $13.90

Pewsey Vale 1998 Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Dark garnet. Dusty cherry-berry aroma, jammy and forward. $12.70

Yalumba 1998 Barossa Shiraz - Tasty black fruit, pepper and tobacco leaf. Big and fresh, a real mouthfull. $15

Heggies Vineyard 1996 Eden Valley Merlot - Dark garnet. Minty cherry-berry fruit and chocolatey oak. $21.45

Mawson's 1998 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot - Clear garnet. Clean fruit, light herbal notes, balanced and elegant.

The Menzies 1997 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon - Dark garnet. Dusty cassis. Very forward Cabernet fruit, full and long. $25

The Signature 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz - Very dark garnet, chocolate peppermint, full and ripe. $35

Octavius 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz - Inky color. Intense chocolate peppermint aroma and flavor, adds coconut on the palate, a candy bar of a red.

Orlando
Frankly, the wineries were starting to run together in my head at this point, and we still had miles to go before we slept. There was more good wine to be tasted, though, and at Orlando - which I had known primarily for its popular if mass-market Jacob's Creek brands, winery representative Bruce Thiele gave us a quick attitude adjustement with some very fine wines.

Jacob's Creek 1999 Reserve Chardonnay - Perfumed, apple-like Chardonnay fruit; crisp, appley and fresh.

Jacob's Creek 1998 Limited Release Chardonnay - Pale gold. Ripe pineapple, big and fresh. Mouth-filling and ripe, huge fruit.

Jacob's Creek 1998 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - Dark garnet. Mint and licorice. Closed but promising, structured and lean.

Jacob's Creek 1998 Reserve Shiraz - Dark ruby. Pepper and spice. Big, juicy and tart, black pepper and licorice.

Jacob's Creek 1996 Limited Release Shiraz Cabernet - Inky garnet. Menthol and black fruit, Very full and ripe, peppery, with a firm acidic structure.

Orlando 1994 Centenary Hill Barossa Valley Shiraz - Inky purple. Mint and chocolate and sweet fennel on the nose and palate.

Elderton

Smaller but well regarded, Elderton produces a good range of Barossa wines:

Elderton 1999 Tantalus - Light gold, pleasant pear-apple aromas, crisp and tart.

Elderton 2000 Eden Valley Riesling - Pale straw; delicate pineapple, soft and fresh.

Elderton 1999 Barossa Chardonnay - Pale gold, butter and smoke and light apple fruit.

Elderton 1999 South Eastern Australia Golden Semillon - Bright gold; intense honey-apricot with a pungent edge. Apricotty, herbal, intensely sweet.

Elderton 1998 Tantalus Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon - Jammy dried-fruit and fresh-fruit acidity.

Elderton 1997 Barossa Merlot - Somewhat closed aroma, full cherry-berry flavor.

Elderton 1998 Barossa Shiraz - peppery and bright.

Elderton 1998 Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon - Cassis and leather, long and textured.

Elderton 1996 Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot - light fennel scent; big flavor, structured black fruit.

Elderton 1997 Barossa Command Shiraz - Plummy eucalyptus, a bit closed in the nose. More open in flavor, full and ripe.

Veritas
Rolf Binder, another old online friend, has gained increasing respect in the Barossa and beyond for the big, extracted and imposing wines he produces at Veritas, the small winery that he is now in the process of moving into new quarters.

With a great deal of technical discussion, Rolf led us through the cellar with a length of hose that he used as a wine "thief" to extract a broad variety of his barrel samples as well as a few from Peter Smith's vines that will eventually bear the Barton Vale label.

Veritas 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon (Barrel sample) - cassis, tarragon, vibrant fruit.

Veritas 2000 Shiraz (Barrel sample, very old vines) - Intensely minty black fruit, perfumed and intense.

Veritas 2000 Shiraz (Barrel sample, 10 year old vines) - pepper and plums, juicy fruit and lemony acid.

Veritas 2000 Shiraz (Barrel sample, estate grown) - Eucalyptus, licorice, aromatic.

Veritas 2000 Shiraz (Barrel sample, potential Hanisch) - Chocolatey, deep fruit, full.

Barton Vale 2000 Barton Hill Cabernet Sauvignon (Barrel sample) - deep blackcurrant and spice. Intense.

Barton Vale 2000 Barton Hill Shiraz (Barrel sample) - aromatic menthol and intense black fruit, deep and rich.

Barton Vale 2000 Barton Grange Shiraz (Barrel sample) - pepper, plums, complex but a lot of green flavors.

Veritas 2000 Grenache (Barrel sample) - ripe berry fruit.

Veritas 1999 Shiraz (Barrel sample) - spice, cocoa and menthol,

Veritas 1999 J.J.Hahn Shiraz (Barrel sample) - Chocolate covemed cherries.

Veritas 1999 Hanisch Shiraz (Barrel sample) - Very full and ripe; mint and plums.

That evening, Peter, Rolf and I adjourned to the first-rate restaurant "1918" in the village of Tanunda, where Rolf brought along a few more of his wines in bottle:

J.J. Hahn 2000 "62 Block" Barossa Valley Semillon - Pale brass; full, forward pears and pine. Unctously full and ripe but with steely acidic structure.

Veritas Winery 1997 Barossa Valley Mourvedre Grenache - Dark garnet; good earthy berry fruit, spicy, a bit raisiny and vinous.

Veritas Winery 1998 Barossa Valley Hanisch Vineyard Shiraz - Inky blackish-purple. Huge chocolate and plum aromas. Big, structured and ripe.

Wolf Blass Wolf Blass
After a restful night at Goat Square House, the Smiths' B&B in one of the oldest historic farm houses in Tanunda, we made one more Barossa winery stop before driving on north to the Clare Valley. The large wine maker Wolf Blass, formerly an independent maker, was purchased recently by the larger operation Mildara, which incorporated its name into the corporate moniker Mildara Blass.

I was a little put off by the winery's industrial oil-refinery look (right), but the friendly young wine maker Matt O'Leary soon helped us eliminate this prejudice by pouring an appealing sample from the winery's range of straighforward, approachable table wines.

2000 Eden/Clare Valleys Gold Label Riesling - Pale brass. Apple and pine; crisp, appley and fresh.

2000 Annie's Lane Clare Valley Riesling - Light brass, fresh and limey; mouth-filling and tart, just off-dry.

1999 Adelaide Hills "Lees Contact" Chardonnay - Light gold. Toasty and smoky, white fruit and butter; dry and full, fruit and oak.

1999 Eden Valley Unfiltered Chardonnay - Light brass. Apple butter and a vinous note; fresh, clean and rich apples and firm acidity ... a Chardonnay of unusual structure and balance.

1996 Grey Label Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz - Inky garnet. Chocolate and mint. Plummy, peppery and tart, good food wine.

Saltram 1998 "Mamre Brook" Barossa Valley Shiraz - Black in color. Pleasant, subtle spice, cocoa and plums. Delicious, open and balanced fruit, smooth and easy drinking.

1998 Barossa Valley Shiraz "Low Yielding Vineyards" - Very dark ruby, delicate fruit and spice. Full plum and pepper flavor, ripe and accessible.

All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I accept no free samples from wineries or distributors, purchasing all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

Have you tasted these wines?
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