20 September, 2007

He’s just Philip from the Block…

The vinous good times continue to roll-on. At the Wine Warehouse we are continuing to find an amazing amount of killer wine that we can bring to you at below ten bucks! Australia is at the forefront and continues to battle Italy for the title of the US’s favorite imported wine country. The under $10 sector is what is driving the Australian wine category. When one begins to discover $15-20 quality at below a ten-spot, that is when the fun begins. We believe that we have just found one of Aussie’s greatest values. From the cool region of Orange comes a new project called Block 50. Block 50 is the most coveted block of vines from Orange’s largest vineyard holder. These mature plantings in Block 50 have played a major role in establishing Orange as a world class wine region.

Orange is located approximately 124 miles west of Sydney on the slopes of the Great Dividing Ranges. The soils were formed by volcanic activity coupled with limestone build up, thus giving the vineyard a predominance of free draining red clay loam soils. The soil incorporates a smattering of rock which assists drainage and overall balance for the vines. It is cool enough to see snow each winter, has no shortage of irrigation water and has warm but not baking hot summers with refreshingly cool nights because of the altitude.

This 1250 acre vineyard is the fourth largest private estate in Australia. The Central Ranges are located at around 600 meters above sea level. With this elevation, cool temperatures couple with abundant sunshine, giving the fruit incredible color with bright and vibrant flavors. The elevation of the vineyard affects the climate where a mean January (August equivalent in the northern hemisphere) temperature can be as low as 18 degrees Celsius which is 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Mild to warm summers mean that temperatures, which seldom rise above 30C (86 Fahrenheit), are offset by cool to extremely cold nights during the growing season.

Let me hit you with some knowledge: Orange is closer to the equator than Sydney yet is much cooler. Orange has a higher elevation whereas the height above sea level of a vineyard can have important effects on its climate and therefore on its grape growing potential. Temperatures fall by about 1.1 °F per 100m greater altitude. Lower temperatures at higher altitudes can delay both budbreak and ripening. Small differences in elevation can have surprisingly large effects on wine quality and on the ability of individual grape varieties to ripen at all. These lower temperatures can be further compounded by a greater amount of rainfall and cloudiness at these higher altitudes.

Higher altitude vineyard sites are continually being sought after, particularly in the world’s warmer wine regions. Examples include the Central Ranges of New South Wales of which Orange is a part, the Adelaide Hills in South Australia, Tupungato and other high altitude plantings in Argentina, the foothills of the Andes in Chile, as well as the newer hillside vineyards in California. Some of these vineyards have been planted not just in search of cooler temperatures, but to escape the deeper, more fertile soils of the valley floors and achieve vine balance in shallower, hillside soils. You’re bound to spot the textural and flavor differences achieved at altitude with the Block 50 wines.

Block 50 wines are being produced by Philip Shaw. Philip is a household name in wine circles and one of the world's leading winemakers. Formerly the winemaker at Rosemount as well as company winemaker for the Penfolds group of wines. Philip is known for raising the bar on wine quality with modern, vibrant, expressive wines. He approaches each aspect of winemaking with a healthy mix of innovation and unrelenting quality standards. Do you recall that string of Rosemount Shiraz’s that made The Wine Spectator’s top 100 list even though they retailed for less than ten bucks? He is at it again with these Block 50 offerings.
Philip has twice been awarded the prestigious Robert Mondavi Trophy for International Winemaker of the Year, first in 1986 and again in 2000. He received Australia's top winemaking honor in 1999 as Qantas/Gourmet Traveler Wine Magazine's Australian Winemaker of the Year. His many accolades include 67 wines that have scored more than 90 points in the Wine Spectator; 17 of these have been included in the magazine's Top 100 wines of the Year lists. I had the pleasure of spending a morning with Philip at the Rosemount winery in the Lower Hunter around ten years ago. This was just a functioning winery with no frills, bells or whistles. Philip made it function into the Wine Spectator's Top 100.

Now on to the wines…..

The 2006 vintage was the earliest on record for Block 50. Consistently mild weather leading up to harvest encouraged optimal ripening. Weather conditions during harvest were perfect, making for an even harvest. Berries were smaller than in previous vintages leading to lower yields. Since yields were down, flavor was concentrated and thus the quality was enhanced. The final selection was matured in 2-3 year old French barrels for 6 months. This Chardonnay was then transferred to stainless steel tanks on its lees, where it was left for 3 months to undergo partial malo-lactic fermentation which lessens the acidity and gives a creamier taste and feel to the palate.

This Chardonnay exhibits a bouquet of green melon and citrus with a subtle toasty oak component overlaying some tropical and vanilla cream notes. Block 50 Chardonnay delivers the perfect balance of bright flavors and supple oak undertones. The wine is long on the palate, vibrant and delicious!

Block 50 Chardonnay ‘Orange’ 2006, Retail $13.99 Warehouse $8.99

Fruit for the Block 50 Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from two sections of the estate vineyard – one bearing rocky red soil and the other characterized by excellent limestone soils, which are ideal for optimizing varietal Cabernet Sauvignon flavors. The wine macerated on skins for 10-20 days after fermentation to maximize quality grape tannin extraction. The wine was then drained off skins and gently pressed, with only the lightest pressings included in the final blend. It then oak matured in French and American oak barrels.

The Block 50 Cab shows a deep black cherry color and the aroma shows fresh berry fruit, cherry and black plum fruit characters with an attractive mouth-feel and depth. Complex berry fruit with cedar and mocha secondary characters integrate with the oak, leaving a wine with a nice depth and length with ripe and chewy tannins. Texturally this wine falls somewhere between a nice Napa Cab and a Bordeaux.

Block 50 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Orange’ 2005, Retail $13.99 Warehouse $8.99

2005 was an ideal growing season for the Block 50 Shiraz as it was characterized by low crops in a warm, dry year. The fruit for this wine was sourced from two prime blocks, one with limestone soil and the other an elevated section with stony, red soil. The grape crop was kept low at around 2.5 tons per acre, which tends to intensify the grape's flavor. Harvest was in the middle of March. At that time, the grapes showed ample acidity and balance, capturing plum like flavors and avoiding any overripe characteristics. This Shiraz macerated on its skins for 5 -10 days to gently extract fine grape tannins. A small portion was taken off skins and transferred to American oak barrels for 12 months for maturation.

The Block 50 Shiraz displays aromas of attractive dark berry fruit with a hint of white pepper. On the palate one can find deep and rich plum and blueberry characters that combine to exhibit a rich and vibrant fruit core with a solid vanilla compote component at the finish.

Block 50 Shiraz ‘Orange’ 2005, Retail $13.99 Warehouse $8.99

All three Block 50 wines are bottled in Stelvin for freshness. Don’t be the last on your ‘block’ to try these fantastic value wines……