As we grow up, it’s fascinating to see what common interests we develop with our parents. Some share the love of a footy team, others get pleasure out of reading the same books. For me and my dad, it’s wine. And specifically, shiraz from Heathcote.
Dad introduced me to its charms in 2004, when my wife and I moved back to the family home after spending a few years in London. With three months to wait before the tenants vacated my place, we all turned to the bottle quickly. In the end, we spent some wonderful weeks “assessing” dad’s cellar and trying out new wines from Heathcote.
It was a while before I got around to making the hour-and-a-half journey north of Melbourne, and when I finally made it to Heathcote, it wasn’t for the wine. It was for Fowlers Vacola preserving jars and I’d been tipped off that the op shop in the old church on High Street had a huge stack of them out the back.
I did, of course, stop in at a few cellar doors on the way up in case my jar journey was fruitless.
Extremely seductive, with a rich, dense core of fruit flavour, Heathcote shiraz is real crowd pleaser and, at its best, inspiring. It’s the star of Heathcote and pioneers such as Osicka and Jasper Hill led the way when the area was part of the Bendigo wine region.
In the past year I’ve spoken to several winemakers from other regions who have been directly influenced by these two wineries and their winemakers.
Heathcote’s hot days and cool nights during the ripening season and deep, ancient red Cambrian soil that retains water are the ideal combination for developing shiraz with complex flavours and a good balance of acid and tannins.
Heathcote is no one-trick pony, however. It may be the star, but there’s much more to the region than shiraz. Some of the whites I’ve most enjoyed recently have come from Heathcote. I thought I knew the region pretty well, but for me, it’s been quite a revelation.
Heathcote may have ancient soils, but it is a young wine region and its winemakers and vignerons are still learning about the area’s terroir – the combination of climate, aspect, soil and place that all influence the flavour of wine.
They are still discovering what grapes grow best and where. The French have known for thousands of years that in areas such as the Rhone Valley, where much of the world’s greatest shiraz is produced, white varietals, such as marsanne, viognier and rousanne also thrive.
I’ve tasted, and reviewed, some lovely Heathcote examples of these varietals recently – as straight wines and blends – and a host of Italian varietals are showing promise. Sangiovese has found a home here, too. I’m looking forward to seeing how the region develops. Whatever varietals stake their claim as the region’s top wine, there’s a fair bet that shiraz will be going strong.
The old church may not have any Fowlers Vacola jars any more – I took the lion’s share a while back – but Heathcote is a great day trip. There’s about 30 cellar doors open on weekends and a quite a few lunch spots in the town.
Tellurian viognier 2010
(Heathcote) $25; 14%
I was going to review the 2009 of this, but noticed as I was checking the price on the website that the 2010 had been released. A quick call to the winery, and here it is for you. Barrel fermented and aged on its lees for seven months on oak, this has style and character. It smells and tastes of honeysuckle, ginger, orange and apricot. There’s a nice minerality and subtle oak, too. It’s light on its feet, with good acidity keeping the wine fresh through to the persistent?finish.
Food match \ Pork with apricot sambal
Shelmerdine Merindoc shiraz 2007
(Heathcote) $47; 13.5%
Shelmerdine is one of the first cellar doors you come to as you head towards Heathcote. My dad and I loved the 2006 and we both came home with a few bottles after we visited. This has wonderful exotic aromas of blackberry, dark cherry, clove, white pepper, cardamom and cocoa. Its full-bodied flavours include blackcurrant, blackberry, plum and a nice line of granitic minerality. The structure is good, too, with grippy tannins and bright acid keeping things fresh.
Food match \ Braised pork cheek
Shadowfax Argyle shiraz 2008
(Heathcote) $30; 14.5%
This is made at Werribee Park, but Shadowfax makes three single-vineyard wines from Heathcote that all express the terroir of the site on which the grapes are grown. They’re all lovely, but this is the cheapest and, I think, the best value of the trio. It has an exotic perfume of blackberry, cherry, raspberry, pepper, five-spice and a hint of chocolate. Similar flavours on the palate are focused and mineral and meaty add to its charms. Its well-structured and silky tannins carry the flavour along to a persistent finish.
Food match \ Chicken and veal terrine
Heathcote Estate shiraz 2008
(Heathcote) $44; 14.5%
Heathcote Estate is owned by the people behind the Mornington Peninsula’s Yabby Lake, and this is really good stuff. My notes say “structured”, “seamless” and “delicious”. I tasted it a couple of months ago and can still remember exactly what it was like. It has deep, complex aromas of blackberry, cherry, spice, and cedar oak. There’s an appealing meatiness to this wine, along with blackberry, raspberry and cherry flavours. The structure is great, with silky, supple texture and fine tannins adding a nice grip to the finish.
Food match \ Crumbed veal sweetbreads
Foster e Rocco Rosé 2010
(Heathcote) $26; 13.2%
Up there with the best rosés I’ve tried lately, this is the style all rosés should be made: savoury, textural and dry. It’s made from sangiovese (an Italian varietal that does well in Heathcote) and the kind of wine you could easily polish off a bottle or two over lunch. It’s dangerously good. Flavours of strawberries, raspberries, cherries, spice and faint herbal notes lead into a nice texture and a refreshing finish with spice and red fruits.
Food match \ Cured meats