Sunday, October 18, 2020

Trio of Clarendon Hills labels - Astralis, Bakers Gully and Romas

Clarendon Hills Baker's Gully Shiraz 2003

After drinking the Clarendon Hills Astralis at the gala Pour Boys tomahawk ribeye wine dinner last weekend, for midweek meatloaf dinner I pull from the cellar another Clarendon Hills label, this aged single vineyard syrah-shiraz, Baker's Gully Syrah. At seventeen years, this bottle is past its prime and its time to drink while it is still within its drinking window. This is the final bottle of several that I obtained more than a dozen years ago. On my last tasting note of this label, three years ago, I wrote it was past its drinking window and starting to show its age. Ideally, I wouldn't finished consuming the remaining bottles rather than waiting three years to consume this final bottle as it has diminished linearly over that time. 

Clarendon Hills winery was founded in 1990 by Roman Bratasiuk in Clarendon, a town 40 kilometres (25 mi) south of Adelaide, part of the McLaren Vale Wine Region in South Australia. Bratasiuk, a viticulturalist as much as a winemaker, selected Clarendon as a base because of the significant number of old vine vineyards that were planted there, vineyards of 50 to 90 years.

The township of Clarendon was established in 1880 by European migrants, who brought with them pre-clonal, original French vine cuttings that they planted and propagated across the surrounding hilltops. Clarendon is home to hugely varied terrain with sandy, clay based soils in the lower elevated regions and contrasted with shattered shale and ironstone rich, quartz ridden soils in the highest areas. It is ideal growing conditions for traditional French Rhone varietals - Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre as well as Bordeaux varietals Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Clarendon Hills vineyards sources lie within the Clarendon, Blewitt Springs and Kangarilla districts. Using single vineyard designated fruits, Clarendon Hills seeks to express terroir driven varietal expression in its wines. 

Today, there are many single vineyard wines in Australia, but when Roman started in 1990, he was a pioneer in this approach. In the early 1990s, Roman started becoming known for his Grenache, but today he has an extensive portfolio of premium and ultra premium quality wines across 19 single vineyard cuvee labels. 

With the release of the 1994 vintage. Roman hired his first employee and rebranded his $30 Clarendon Hills Shiraz as 1994 Clarendon Hills Astralis. It was the first bottle in Australia to be priced at $100. It sold out and became his signature flagship label which remains to this day.  

Robert Parker has written that  "Clarendon Hills is one of the worlds elite wine estates".  In 1996,   Parker tasted the 1994 Astralis and wrote in his newsletter, Wine Advocate issue 110: "This is the hottest wine in Australian wine circles, as it came out ahead of two great vintages of Henschke and Penfolds’ Grange in a recent tasting. If readers can believe it, it is a bigger denser, more concentrated wine than the Grange," and in issue 108 (1996) he named Roman wine producer of the year. Thereafter, Astralis became a cult wine.
Two vintages of Astralis (1996 and 1994) were recently included within the 'Greatest 1000 Wines of all time 1727-2006" as a result of 15 international MW's collaborating with Scandinavian publisher FINE. 
Clarendon Hills was awarded New World Winery of the Year in 2006 by Wine Enthusiast. To date, Astralis is either the highest or equivocally scored as the best Australian Shiraz/Syrah based wine every year according to US publications Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate.
Today, Clarendon Hills produces broad portfolio of nineteen labels; eight Syrah, six Grenache, three Cabernet Sauvignon and one Merlot and Mourvedre wine. Roman exclusively produces single vineyard wines, all single vineyard, single varietal wines, produced from low yielding, dry grown old vines which are hand pruned, hand picked. All wines are aged in high quality French oak barriques.  

Clarendon Hills Baker's Gully Shiraz 2003

This Baker's Gully label was produced to be an entry level wine targeted at the restaurant trade which found the Clarendon Hills Old Vines range too pricey for some wine lists. This also provided an introduction to Clarendon Hills wines to a broader customer base.  
The Bakers Gully vineyard from which this label is sourced, is located approximately 1 km from the winery. Bratasiuk has been looking at this site for a few years, which consists of 10 year old dry grown Shiraz. The cropping levels are at the higher end of the quality status at 3 ½ tonnes per acre. Roman believes that over a period of 2-5 years the yields will be reduced to 2-2 ½ tonnes per acre. The soil profile is similar to those of another popular well known vineyard/label, Liandra, with sandy and clay soils which are typical of Blewitt Springs. The wine is aged in 15% new oak consisting of a mixture French Allier and Nevers.

Over the years we've had and still hold several labels from this producer including the flagship, premium Astralis that we consumed last weekend at our gala Pour Boys dinner. My actual favorite label from this producer, and perhaps most memorable drinking experiences is their Piggott Range Syrah. My experience is that those labels were always vastly exceeding this label. Lastly, we hold and recently tasted their Romas Grenache varietal label. It was underwhelming to the extent that I did not publish a review at that time. I'll wrap that up at the bottom of this post.

At this writing, the Baker's Gully still holds its dark inky garnet color and full bodied concentrated fruits, but a slight earthy leathery funk has set in with notes of a slight burnt note that was described a decade ago but a fellow cellartracker reviewer, offset by a raisin tones and a bit of a cognac alcohol heat tone. Satisfactory sipping as it nears end of life. 
RM 86 points.

Clarendon Hills Romas Clarendon Grenache 2007

Last week I opened this Clarendon Hills Romas Vineyard Grenache. This is Clarendon Hill's top Grenache, sourced from the Romas Vineyard, which sits in the tenderloin/best part of the more famous Blewitt Springs Vineyard.

The vineyard was planted in 1920 with the 'Romas Grenache' in the steepest, most elevated section. What makes this site special is its elevation of almost 1000 ft and its proximity to the ocean, which sits only a few miles away.  The hillside site in some places reaches above a +40˚ slope gradient where the old vines struggle to survive on a steep rock hill face with yields a microscopic 1.2 ton to the acre.The elevation and slope combined with the proximity to the ocean results in a cooler-climate site and not prone to producing the ‘jammy’, ‘porty’ styles of Aussie Grenache so popular from the broader area, rather, this wine is more like wines from the north side of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. 

This was dark garnet colored, medium bodied with strong nose of cherry liqueur, ultra ripe raisiny berry and strawberry fruits are accented with an offsetting medicinal glycerin and high alcohol tone, with notes of oak, clove and mineral.

RM 84 points.


Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016

 Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016

For a quiet casual saturday evening in, we prepared a plate of artisan cheeses, fruits, charcuterie and popcorn, actually Linda's signature maple/caramel corn, we pulled from the cellar one of our favorite sipping wines for such an occasion, Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

Two stand-out cheeses that are emerging as favorites are Delice-de-Bourgnogne creamy light brie, and hearty firmly structured Old Amsterdam Gouda, orange in color and grainy textured - two diverse styles that are both nice complements to this wine. 

This is a go-to wine that we keep in the cellar, vintage to vintage, when we drink an older bottle, we'll replace it with the recent currently available release so that we always have some available. Its great for casual pleasurable sipping, but also sophisticated accompaniment to seafood, or white meats as well as salads and some desserts. 

The primary vineyard source is located in eastern Rutherford, consisting of old vines planted to a heritage Musqué clone and Sémillon, providing density, richness, and citrus notes. Two other old-vine vineyards from up in Calistoga are included in the blend, one planted to Sauvignon Blanc and the other to Sémillon. Also included are grapes from a cooler climate vineyard on the east side of Napa, imparting vibrant acidity and finesse to the wine. Finally, a vineyard in over the hill just east of Napa Vally in Chiles Valley, a small vineyard pocket in eastern Napa County,  adds complexity with old vines of Sauvignon Vert planted in 1947. 

This label release got 92 points from the Tasting Panel and from Wilfred Wong of, 89 points from Wine Spectator.

Consistent with earlier tasting notes of this label back in 2018, this was light straw colored, light bodied, this vintage is more subdued and muted than recent vintages with moderate pear flavored fruit punctuated by citrus and grapefruit with only a slight hint of that peach flavor so predominate in some past years that reveals itself after a half hour or so from opening. 

RM 88 points.