Dinner at The Vault in Melbourne (Nov. 24)
At the end of another long day in a series of long tasting days, I came to Friday night's Melbourne "offline" in a mood to relax and enjoy good friends, food and wine without having to work. Accordingly, I took the night off from my notes-recording duties. Luckily, Murray Almond was more dedicated than I, and recorded these notes, which are published here with permission. I've added a few comments of my own to Murray's; my notes are in italics.

© copyright 2000 by Murray Almond
Wine Australia 2000 was an appropriate excuse to have a larger than usual offline, and to have the presence of Robin Garr, Journalist, Wine Judge, Connoisseur and host of the Wine Website that 'New York Times' says "outdoes all others", made the excuse all the more easier to make.

So Friday November 24 was selected for us all to gather at "The Vault" restaurant in Melbourne. David Mattner did a fantastic job organising the food to match the various flights of wines.

There were almost 30 of us attending. The usual Melbourne suspects were joined by Robin, with fellow escapees from presidential counting; Pete and Nikki Leeson, and also interstate visitors Mark Kopec, a few winemakers and friends from South Australia, Calvin from parts abroad and my travelling companion Ric. Due to the numbers we had two bottles of each wine served, so we'd all get a decent taste.

We started simply on arrival with a glass of the very good Seaview Pinot/Chardonnay 1997 Brut. This is one of the best value bubblies in Oz, and extraordinary tasting in the sub $15 bracket. The canapés of smoked salmon crostini were passed around while we waited for all the parties to arrive.

We all seated, I got up to say a few words of welcome and to blame any problems on someone else and the festivities truly got underway.

The Appetiser was Oysters 3 ways: deep fried, natural with vodka lime granita and natural with spicey salsa. We had three different whites and an oyster was prepared to suit each style.

1998 Seppelt Drumborg Sauvignon Blanc Drumborg, Victoria
This is the cool climate vineyard near Portland. This was a delicious wine, the fruit carried restrained power without the blousiness of many Sauvignon Blancs around the place. Wonderful long finish. I loved it.

This was also my favorite of the flight, clean and fresh and lasting. --RG

1995 Grosset Watervale Riesling Watervale, South Aus
A gorgeous wine. The development had only just commenced on the wine, with a hint of toastiness breaking through the limes and hints of tropical fruit. A wine with ages to go.

1997 Kistler Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay California
Hand carried from the US by Pete just for the dinner. Unfortunately there was a bit of bottle variation between the two bottles. The 'better' bottle had great ripe fruity with good quality oak. It's a full-on style. I enjoyed it as one of the rare occasions of trying a California Chardonnay.

As an American who's entirely too exposed to "full-on" CalChards, I disliked this wine, finding it overripe, overoaked and over the top. --RG

Between courses we had a sparkling red, from memory brought down by Mark.

Rockford Black Shiraz South Australia
Served a touch cold, but warmed up in the glass. Very big dark berry fruit, great oak, fine bead and a tremendously long finish. My preference is to see the Black with a few years bottle age, however this didn't detract from a stunning wine.

Agreed. I have mixed emotions about Oz "spurgles" (sparkling burgundies), which seem to come in a bewildering range of styles. But the Rockford Black has consistently impressed me. It's simply a fine Shiraz that also happens to have bubbles. --RG

Entreé was a lovely Raviolo of lamb neck, served on braised savoy cabbage with Cabernet jus. This was a great accompaniment to the first flight of reds. For me this was the flight on the night, which wouldn't be that much of a surprise.

1997 Stoniers Reserve Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Beautifully gorgeous. I love this wine. I got the opportunity to spend 20 minutes with the winemaker at Wine Australia, which was hard to take. Classic Pinot Nose, red berry and spice, Fantastic balance with fine tannins and a long finish. Wonderful.

1991 Petaluma Coonawarra Coonawarra South Aus
From the year that's now rivalling the 1990 as a premium year for Coonawarra. Classical Coonawarra nose of berry, a hint of capsicum and cedar. Great mouthfeel and a long finish. A lovely wine that did tire a touch after a while in the glass. Personally I think it's not far off peaking.

1990 Wynns 'John Riddoch' Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra, South Aus
From magnum. Fantastic nose of dark berry, gorgeous oak, chocolate and coffee. The palate was rich and full with a magnificently long finish. Predictably tasting fresher than the Petaluma but also had the edge in quality for me. (declaration in case I get accused of bias, it was my magnum).

I liked all of this flight, but the Riddoch was the wine of the evening for me, the only wine that prompted me to finish the first glass and seek a refill. --RG

As we were preparing for the next course Calvin presented two bottles wrapped in tin foil as a challenge to us all. These were poured and assessed. It was a wonderfully old wine. I thought it may have been an old Bordeaux, such was the palate, very fine tannin and elegantly long finish. I was wrong about the country, it was a 1974 Chateau Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon Nagambie, Victoria. A stunning aged wine, past it's peak but far from dying.

Time for some heavier reds and a wonderful course to match of Peppered Lamb Cutlets with saffron potato dumplings, peas, fava beans and wine jus We had two wines brought by their makers to the dinner and a wonderful Oz classic.

1987 Lindemans Hunter River Burgundy Shiraz, Hunter Valley NSW
Lindemans started correctly calling it Shiraz a couple of vintages later. Classic aged Hunter, showing the red/dark berry spice and 'sweaty saddle' tones. Great mouthfeel and a long finish. Still with plenty of life.

1998 Blanche Barkley 'Mary Eileen' Shiraz Bendigo District, Victoria
Fairly full on ripe shiraz in the bigger Oz style. Ripe mouthfeel with a mid-long finish. It didn't have the balance of many of the earlier wines for me. I didn't get a chance to discuss it with the maker, David Reimer.

1998 Lengs & Cooter Reserve Shiraz McLaren Vale, South Australia
. Messers Lengs and Cooter were both with us. This wine had showed the benefit of the great 1998 vintage in South Australia. Ripe berry without jam, solid balanced mouthfeel with good American oak and long finish with solid tannins. Very good aging potential and way too young yet.

And so to dessert which was a splendid Mille feuille of chocolate with berry compote and sauternes sabayon. A classic Oz sweet wine that is often underrated was served.

1989 Lindemans Hunter River Porphery Bin 7480
Deep orange colour with apricot and marmalade. Not overly cloying but a very long finish. A great match for the dish.

With coffee was a fortified that I didn't jot down and more reds opened. I left them to it as Robin, Ric and I had an early start to Great Western and the Pyrenees. Can anyone else fill in the missing bits?

It was a fantastic gathering of local, interstate and international wine lovers. My thanks to David for all his assistance in bringing the night together. Thanks to all who attended for the fantastic wine. And thanks to Robin for launching the website and discussion forums that brought us all together. The New York Times doesn't tell us anything we don't already know.

Now, what's the next excuse for a Melbourne Offline?

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?
E-mail me your tasting notes, and I'll consider adding them to this page.

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