Old Baileys fortifieds

From a recent auction purchase, the two wines described are believed to have been bottled at least 35 years ago. The style can lose freshness, even under screwcap. I have many vivid memories of visiting Baileys outside Glenrowan, Victoria – even as a child – and their heroic and long-living ferrous red wines and luscious fortifieds. It was a rare day when visits did not coincide with bitter weather (and a welcome open fire) or alternatively a heatwave, when it was tempting to remain inside. HJT are the initials of legendary winemaker Harry Tinson and these wines represent their best selections of the styles. Harry led Baileys from 1973 to 1986, before escaping to start his own label at nearby Lake Mokoan,  (but died in 1995).

My impression is that under assorted corporate ownership, Baileys was starved of investment (except for label redesigns), and its existence, location, wine styles, and its loyal and vocal customer base was regarded as a nuisance, and largely ignored. It’s now under the Casella umbrella, and I remain optimistic.

The wines of Baileys are now made by Paul Dahlenburg (also at the excellent Eldorado Road) and have the same intensity with some more winemaking finesse – something I only picked up with 2009 vintage and onwards; the fortifieds are again outstanding.

nv hjts

NV Baileys Winemakers selection HJT Liqueur muscat
The wine is a dark khaki/coffee grounds/motor oil colour; the aromas are stacked with all the mocha/toffee/orange rind and spiced raisin that are desired; the palate is very, very concentrated. rich, ultra sweet but with the bracing freshness, dried fruits and a touch of camphor to brighten the excesses and “please sir can I have some more?”

Drink now, but 92 points for this piece of history

NV Bundarra (Baileys) Winemakers selection HJT Liqueur (tokay) Topaque
Time has been less kind to this bottle, but no-one had issues drinking, and requesting top-ups. It’s a similar colour to it sibling, albeit not quite as deep. The varietal malt/anchovy/fishoil/butterscotch characters are present with saline, malt and some staleness. The palate is very rich and luscious. Malt extract, roast hazelnuts and dark chocolates build a delicious complex picture, but this wine requires some judicious freshening (use another bottle of topaque and experiment!)

Drink now, 86 points (well worth the purchase price to revisit tasting and travel memories)

Snippets, again

Maybe not thematic, but these fragments deserve a note; on the cork front, an unusual  run in the past six months yielded only 2 wines affected by taint or obvious oxidation–  a “meagre” 3.7%. Not many industries would accept this level of wastage. The degree of TCA in both wines was amazing- textbook examples.

  • 1993 Craiglee Chardonnay – replaced
  • 1996 Baileys Shiraz – no response from winery

And quick notes follow about wines that impressed

2015 Tolpuddle Chardonnay 12.5%
“Full malo” is a phrase that normally makes me run away, but served masked (of course) this Coal River valley (Tasmania) wine astonished. It’s a modern melon and smoke style- such as Oakridge or Seville Estate- cashewy oak, mineral-drenched fruit and the Tasmanian acidity powers through this utterly delicious wine.
From the Shaw and Smith stable, it’s around $60 a bottle retail – I ordered 3 bottles on the spot. Wonderful, and will hold for quite a while.

2015 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 13.5%
This is the 60th release of this label; a few years ago, I tasted the 1960, 1965, 1966 and 1972; there is no doubting the longevity of the style; its affordability makes it deservedly popular among wine-drinkers (not just unicorn-collectors). This release is ripe, beautifully manicured and balanced; blackcurrant and other dark fruits, chalks; it flows gently, deliciously and juicily along. Lovely, with a huge future. Coonawarra, and unforced.

2012 Giant Steps Applejack Pinot Noir 13.5%
This is a wine that nearly won the notorious Jimmy Watson trophy, but there was insufficient volume. At  5 years old, this  Yarra Valley wine has time on its side. Its amazingly fragrant, with small, succulent, sweet red berry scents, plus seasoned oak. The palate shows much more ripe strawberry, and again the oak is present, somehow making a savoury impact. But where this wine stands out is for its prodigious, long-lasting, ultra-refined finish. Another 5 years at least, and 95 points

2002 Seppelt St Peters Shiraz 14%
Wonderful wine. Cork was not the greatest visual composition, but no travel.
2002 was a cool year in Victoria, and this wine is special. My records indicate I paid $35; some key notes; the colour is deep black/red, and there is no browning even at the rim; the wine is beautifully poised with vibrant, intense fruit, oak very much a background factor. Its ripeness is spot-on; blackberry, mixed spices and mocha, some very faint herbal tannin bitterness, and just powers along. Easy, hedonistic drinking, and will remain so for another 15 years – or more. Instant gold medal score, and another example of Grampians Shiraz seduction.

1995 Guigal Hermitage
From a great year in the Northern Rhone; power+, ripe +, slinky old-vine mouthfeel. Dry herb, chalk, iron filings and spices, powdery tannins, touch of bitterness. At plateau and another 10 years will not tire it. Outstanding, 94 points

 

And a few rarities from a very special dinner

2002 Bollinger RD disgorged 24/6/2014
Served at a “just right” temperature in appropriate glassware (flutes are NOT proper stemware for Champagne, any kind of tulip-shaped glass is better). It’s a light straw colour; Immediate sense of class. There are scents of pastries, fruit tingles, strawberries dusted gently with icing sugar (the Pinot dominance roughly 60/40 is felt); a touch of oak/chalk/cream, a touch of almond. Then the palate lights up with exuberance, tiny bead, and the flavours just linger on, the wine seems bone dry (4 g/l is very dry even for a prestige champagne). This is just a wonder, so sensual and so compelling- finally it just powered along with more nuances with each refreshing sip. A wine that could accompany many foods, and was not elbowed aside by a truffled croquette. 96 points.

1990 Trimbach Clos st hune Riesling 14%
Approached with some trepidation as a bottle tried in 13/5/2013 unexpectedly threw me in to delivering a perfect score.

Was I delusional? Would another bottle disappoint?This wine from Alsace has a bright clear gold colour; but amazingly, almost pungently floral. Light honey, lemon peel, bottle age, flint ripeness. Palate, silky, fluffy, candied dried fruits, flint, stone, mineral. The magic combination of richness and freshness.

Another 20 years in sight. 98 points.  (Notes were similar)

1990 Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle 13.9%
Everyone’s favourite in a bracket of 3 Hermitages including 1990 JL Chave and 1990 Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavilon, and so easy to love. Very dense colour, with trivial bricking; barnyard, earth, butterscotch, then the palate runs rampant with dark cherry, tar and more earth, some smoky, dried meaty aspects. Oak is entirely vanished, we’re left with a slinky vinous old-vine palate of fine, fine tannins. Memorable and contemplative – mature wines don’t really come better.
Drink to 2040, 98 points

Humbling masked tasting of 2 Victorian fortified wines

It’s never straightforward tasting masked wines, attempting to reach conclusions on characteristics, origins, quality, while at the same time attempting to appreciate their virtues – a clash of analysis and appreciation. This was another lunch, with two delicious (masked) fortifieds to finish.

The first wine showed some bricking in colour, and the aromatics showed cocoa, raspberry, and blackberry jam – a vintage port style. The spirit was integrated with a hint of perfumed, headsy character. The palate was quite sweet, almost too much, but the fruit was dense, vibrant, and juicy. Warm but not hot with its alcohol, this deliciously cuddly wine seemed an “old-fashioned”, typical Australian in style, and more in a North-eastern Victorian vein, likely Rutherglen. My guess was that the wine was from the early 1990’s. The surprise was that the wine was actually 1975 Bailey’s Vintage Port. Made by Harry Tinson,  its source in Glenrowan is “near enough” to Rutherglen to claim some minor credit. The wine looked so much younger – in a holding pattern -with plenty of time ahead of it (to 2035). I scored it at 92 points, and it turns out I previously tasted it and described here about one year ago. The score, and descriptors are quite similar, so I’m either consistent or adjectivally deprived.

The calibre and deliciousness of the first wine made me turn reluctantly to pay attention to the second wine, which was similar in style. It seemed older, based primarily on its colour, and its aromatics of dark chocolates and lavender immediately led my thinking- vintage Port; Australia; Rutherglen; mid- 1980’s. Some almond meal, and its lower degree of sweetness compared to its companion led to a fleeting flirtation with Portugal, but I stuck with my first impressions. Quite mellow, it suffered in the shadow of its brooding companion. And the wine was 1987 Bullers Vintage Port (magnum).  I scored it at 91 points, drink to 2030.

Both wines are likely to be predominantly Shiraz.

What an extraordinary privilege to drink a 40 y/o and and 30 y/o wine in one bracket. More please!

NV Baileys of Glenrowan Founders classic topaque 17%

Baileys is a winery we detour to when travelling along the Hume Highway from Melbourne. Just out of Glenrowan, the visits I recall have largely been during summer heatwaves where the eucalyptus oil is heady in the air, or during winters when rain is lashing along. In both situations, the winery is a welcome relief.

For sentimental reasons (written about earlier) I have a longstanding affection for the luscious fortifieds and traditionally-styled bold  ferrous reds of Baileys. Harry Tinson’s legacy is respected by talented winemaker and custodian Paul Dahlenberg. So I should like the wine.

nv-baileys-topaque

Topaque is the revised name for the Australian fortified Tokay. Unusually for this young, fortified muscadelle style, the wine is sold in normally sized 750ml bottle (rather than the more common 375ml or 500ml). Its an amber colour, with a khaki rim; malt and digestif biscuit dominate the aromatics, with a touch of sea, seaweed and iodine adding to the intrigue. It is rich and inviting. But that’s where the highlight reel tails away; the palate displays ample but simpler butterscotch characters. While there is no doubting its sweetness, it’s a bit of a letdown after that bouquet, and overall something is missing. There is some rancio from wood aging; there is ample acidity to cut through the sweetness; I’ve struggled here and ultimately concluded that the bottle is a bit stale (a batch or storage issue); as the result does not match other tastings of this wine over the past two months.

It still represents excellent VFM, and many will appreciate this wine more than I did.

Drink now, but this bottle only merits 85 points

1975 Baileys Bundarra Vintage Port

There are wines that are difficult to assess objectively. Wines from Baileys present this issue to me, for a raft of sentimental reasons. In the heartland of Ned Kelly country near Glenrowan in Victoria, Baileys is a winery that I travelled to with my parents, then with my family and children. We often seemed to visit partly to break the journey north, and my memories recall many a sweltering day, when the winery provided temporary relief from the un-airconditioned car. Inside was dark and blessedly cooler. The counter was typically set with a large range of whites, reds and an impressive range of fortified wines including the “founder” range. The general instruction was “start at that end and keep going”.

My visits covered a range of winemakers including Harry Tinson, Steve Goodwin and more recently Paul Dahlenberg, and the usual problem was to limit purchases to either fit the available budget, or avoid taking up much space in the car – generally artfully jam- packed for holidays. Down a bunch of narrow roads with turnoffs easy to miss at the speeds travelled. Afterwards there was the classic all-too-brief drive across the scenic Warby ranges with the possibilities of going to Brown Brothers at Milawa, or trying the range of mustards nearby (and the pie shop).

At various times there seemed to be numerous back vintages of Baileys available at very reasonable prices. But the wine in question was purchased at auction perhaps 10 years ago, with the label, level and cork looking pretty good – after all –its now 40 years old!

75 baileys vp

This wine (made by Harry Tinson) had surprisingly little fine sediment; and key impressions were dark, dark red black colours, initially with some hot spirit showing. seeming much younger than it really was. And a typically sweet, old-fashioned Australian vintage fortified, BUT with air of generosity; milk chocolates, cocoa, chalk,  and a long-lasting fruitcake palate. The spirit settled, the fruit emerged from its long sulk, and others at the table had no problems in returning for further sampling. All Shiraz, and while its fully ready, it’s in no danger of collapse and seems to be on a plateau that will provide quite decadent drinking for at least another 10 years.

Drink now to 2030; score (objectively) 90; sentimentally 93

Winery mailing lists, then and now

I have been diligently removing myself from winery mailing lists for a few years, but when I began indulging in wine, it was exciting to receive the ramblings. Here’s some background on a few that continually piqued my interest.

Mount Mary – Mailers started out as little more than a price list with a brief description of the available wines, but Dr John Middleton adventured these into pamphlets packed with philosophy, history, education, musings on taxation, retailing and so on. The print seemed to get smaller and the brochure longer.  A newsletter full of character, pungency and wit. Always interesting – even the parts I could understand and disagree with.

Mount Mary had a waiting list before you could join the mailing list, and the most restricted wine was the Pinot Noir. People rushed to return their orders as fast as possible, with Mt Mary desperate to stop faxes and couriers molesting them. On release and tasting days there were queues, and people purchasing everything they could up to the limits. John was distraught at customers that “flipped” his wines to retailers and auction houses soon after the wines became available.

And for a while there was gewürztraminer.

Once I made an appointment to see John, and was surprised to see him mowing the lawn in a very tattered machine. Another time, he generously donated a bottle of his prized Quintet to some impoverished (but wine-interested) University students. Once I enquired about getting a magnum, and this was cheerfully aranged – after I had supplied an empty magnum-sized bottle.

Pipers Brook – Dr Andrew Pirie’s release newsletters were also vibrant, with part of the novelty being that the wines came from Tasmania. The newsletters highlighted the (painfully) small volumes available, sometimes offering very mixed packs, as volumes of newer varietals came on-stream, and different bottlings from varied special block selections were made.

(AP Birks) Wendouree – Another winery with a waiting list before  customers progressed to the mailing list; and curiously the order forms carry marks indicating the longevity and worthiness of the customer. Customers may get their order quantities adjusted (downwards).

The format of the newsletter has not changed, and reads in essence “the following wines grown made and bottled at the estate are now available”, followed by blend proportions and age of vineyards. Appealing in its apparent simplicity, and for all their renown the wines remain very reasonably priced.

When I toured a few years ago, Tony Brady pointed me toward one of the vineyards and laconically said “watch out for snakes”. If you visit, make sure to view the small, immaculately constructed shelves holding their stock of museum wines.

Baileys of Glenrowan – Readers could easily discern Harry Tinson’s heroic struggle to describe his new wines, and his restiveness to improve their quality each year. The newsletter was modest in tone, but the wines certainly spoke of their place. The area had imposed an enormous stamp on Harry and he reciprocated.

Moss Wood – Newsletters began simply, but blossomed into artworks, describing in great detail various technical tweaks in viticulture and winemaking, plus fabulous tables of vintage ratings and comparisons. Having correctly planted Margaret River’s strength with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Moss Wood persevered with 2 Semillons and Pinot Noir. Now they have multiple sites to choose from, with greater blending and varietal options.


Now, we are in the world of the internet, and emails and websites have largely replaced snail mail.  The newer technology means potential for more photographs, updated reviews, blogs etc. The downside here is greater opportunity for marketers to go ballistic, and for web designers to inflict illogical and obtrusive designs. But I have hoarded some of these old paper newsletters to trigger the voyages along memory lane.