Category Archives: Wine

McLaren Vale Wine – Ruffilli Estates

30 years ago the Patriarch of the Ruffilli family left his Italian home to travel to Australia with not much more than his viticulture background.  He came to Australia with the ambition o make wine and thus he made his way to McLaren Vale full of ambition.  This is why the estate label has the word Ambition.

Today they have about 58 acres under vine in the Willunga and Sellicks areas.  The grapes are made into wine under contract with a majority sold as bulk wine and the best grapes and wine selected for the estates Ambition label.  Grape varieties grown are:-

  • Shiraz
  • Cabernet
  • Grenache
  • Merlot
  • Chardonnay
  • Riesling

Currently there is a focus on red wine releases under a Reserve and Estates labels.

Up to now these wines have been sold to restaurants but there is a move to retail sales.  Check out their web site here.


I will be placing these wines on the Taste McLaren Vale red wine sales page as well.

2009 Ruffilli Estates Ambition Cabernet Merlot

More complex than I was expecting – herbs of mint, lavender, Rosemary and thyme combined with blackcurrent fruit wrapped with an envelope of unobtrusive oak tannin.  There is a slight hint of greenness and a small donut effect.  The donut effect of Cabernet is where the mid palate flavours diminish in the middle of the wine.  It is here but only just.  When left to breathe the secondary flavours and aromas of chocolate and licorice come through.  The chocolate here defines the mid palate and thus no donut!  Definitely a food wine maybe a rabbit and root vegetable casserole.  One to watch out for and to keep – if you can.

2010 Ruffilli Estates Ambition Shiraz

The aromas were dominated by blackberries and red liquorice mixed with a sense of dustiness on the nose.  I was please to taste minimal oak influence and straight after opening I got blackberries, chocolate and lingering cloves.  There is some smokiness and I felt there was an influence of residual sugar.  After opening I left the wine for a day with the air evacuated and the difference was just – WOW.  No longer a sense of residual sugar but now it was all about the milk chocolate – layers and layers of it.  This will wine needs time – time in the glass or bottle.  This patience will be worth it.

2009 Ruffilli Estates Ambition Reserve Cabernet

Upon first opening I got the sense this was more a dry red wine style more than a classical Cabernet.  McLaren Vale seems to make a number of these wines.  However after a few hours of breathing the wine took on a whole new character.  The fruit was all black – current, berry and cherry with a hint of the mint one expects from good Cabernet.  On the back palate there was a hit of drying tannin which was saying to me the wine would like some more time in the bottle.  What also impressed me was what was not there – greenness.  A number of Cabernet wines seem too green for me – herbaceous and capsicum flavours have little place in a glass I want to consume.  So this wine was alright by me.

2009 Ruffilli Estates Ambition Reserve Shiraz

Not tasted.

McLaren Vale Wine – 2011 McLaren Vale Scarce Earth Project Shiraz Part 3

The third installment in my review of the 2011 Scarce Earth Shiraz Project review (see part 1 by clicking here and part 2 clicking here).

My general comments about all the wines tasted from this release.  2011 was a difficult vintage and I was not sure what to expect.  These wines show that it is dangerous in making generalisations as these wines were in the whole very good – I was so relieved.  I also think that this year was the best representation of the intent of the project.  It has taken 3 years but I think the producers are starting to get it right.  Most of the wines showed character that would normally be covered by lashings of oak.  These wines are really showing off what good fruit can do with a minimal oak approach.  Maybe this will be the start of a minimal oak revolution?

I would like to acknowledge that the information regarding the different districts has come from the paper “VITICULTURAL VINEYARD AREAS-TERROIRS of MCLAREN VALE WINE REGION” by Jeffrey G. Olliver (Consultant Geologist) and James Hook (Viticulturist DJ’s Growers) for Mclaren Vale Grape, Wine & Tourism Association.  The wine map shown below was also supplied by the Mclaren Vale Grape, Wine & Tourism Association.

McLaren Vale Sub Region Map


District 10 or Bellevue

Undulating rises on sand and limestone. Sandy loam to loam over red clay, loamy sand over brown clay and black-brown cracking clay.  Some of the oldest vines planted in McLaren Vale are found in region #10, and these can ripen as early as sites closer to the Gulf of St Vincent. All grapes ripen earlier than in #12, and significantly earlier than those in # 14 located to the north east.

d’Arenburg The Vociferate Dipsomaniac ($99)

From the vineyard next to the stables near the cellar door and definitely all about the fruit quality – as per the specification for the Project.  I get a sense of leaves or greenness here – so maybe picked while the seeds were still a tad green?

d”Arenberg The Piceous Lodestar ($99)

A real mixture of perfume, cherries and earthiness and the tannins were slightly bitter at the end of the palate.

District 11 or Old Noarlunga – Seaford Heights – McLaren Gateway

McLaren Gateway vineyards grow on shallow loam, stony in places, over red clay on limey weathered bedrock.  Relatively level ridge tops south of the deeply incised Onkaparinga River.  Vineyards are concentrated at McLaren Gateway.

Meet Steve & Sadie from Wistmosa Wines

Wistmosa Wines ($35)

I had briefly seen this wine before so I was looking forward to having a proper taste of it again.  I was not disappointed.  Aromas of chocolate, deep fruits and almost a sense of mushrooms right at the end.  In the mouth this wine is all about what good McLaren Vale Shiraz should be – chocolate, licorice, plums, pepper and some dried herbs.  A wine that was just a joy to savor and never to guzzle!

District 12 or Blewitt Springs

Sand over sandy clay, deep sand and ironstone soil.  Rainfall increases in the Willunga Basin as the topography increases in elevation from west to east, therefore sites in #12 have a higher rainfall than those to the west in #7, #11 as examples.

d’Arenberg The Blind Tiger ($99)

Bring on the peat.  Blewitt Springs wines can show a peatiness that I have not really encountered elsewhere – and this wine has it in spades.  Deep but clean friut with minimum oak.  Definately my pick of the d’Arenberg offerings.

Hastwell & Lightfoot Scarce Earth Shiraz ($30)

Aromas of deepness – fruit and that peat again.  The flavours were a little lighter than expected from the deep aromas but this does not take anything away from the overall enjoyment of the wine.  The effect of the peat and licorice on the bright fruit causes the wine to linger in the mouth.  Enjoy.

Shottesbrooke Vineyards Single Vineyard Shiraz Blewitt Springs ($45)

Lots of fruit and that Blewitt Springs peat showing again in the aroma profile.  The extended lees maturation shows up in the lovely mouthfeel the wine extends to the consumer.  The fruit and oak tannin are well matched – another wine worth tracking down.

District 16 or McLaren Flat

Silty loam over brown clay and sandy loam over poorly-structured brown clay.

Sabella J Petrucci & Son Shiraz ($25)

Maybe a better wine than the 2010 offering and it is all about “deep”.  Deep fruit aromas and deep blackberry fruit flavours.  If you like the deep then give it a try.

District 18 or Kurrajong/Elliot/Hillside

Breccia of large angular blocks of quartzite and siltstone in the east becoming finer grained progressively to the west. Most distal alluvial fans consist of clayey sandstone.

Mr Riggs Shiraz ($50)

For me one of the few wines that did not really match the Scarce Earth Project brief.  The oak was as much or more prevalent that the fruit flavours.  This was also the greenest wine of the tasting – maybe indicating the grapes were picked while the pips were still green.  A wine that will be enjoyed by many punters but when compared to the others in the line up – not for me.

Gemtree Vineyards Uncut Shiraz ($30)

Pepper and vibrant fruit (including some blue fruits) with just a hint too much oak for a wine in this project.  Maybe a wine trying to be too many things – a normal release commercial wine and a Scarce Earth wine as well?

McLaren Vale Wine – 2011 McLaren Vale Scarce Earth Project Shiraz Part 2

This is the second of my review of the 2011 McLaren Vale Scarce Earth Shiraz Project wines.  A summary of the project and the tasting is outlined in Part 1.

2011 McLaren Vale Scarce Earth Shiraz Project Tasting

Below is the McLaren Vale Region Geology Map with the different districts shown.

McLaren Vale Sub Region Map

District 5 or Whites Valley

From the coast, undulating coastal land forms the main ridge with heavy black cracking clay soil but with scattered calcrete outcrop and float.  Vineyards are generally early ripening similar to #1 and #2.

Hugh Hamilton Black Blood 1 ($70)

Made from fruit off the block next to the cellar door – same as last year.  Clean fruit with violets and white pepper on the nose.  Flavours of blackberry, cloves and licorice that on the whole was better balanced between fruit and oak when compared to the same wine last year.  I say this as last year I thought the wine needed a touch more oak – not so this time.

Shingleback Unedited Shiraz ($80)

Shingleback Unedited 2011 Shiraz

The aromas were strong with dried herbs and less blackberry fruit.  On the palate there seemed to be some fruit sweetness but more on the mulberry side (compared to blackberry).  There was the dried herb hit of oregano and rosemary with the distinct finish of licorice.

District 5 & 6

District 6 or Gloucester.  Soil are undulating rises on sandy sediments. Heavy black cracking clay soil with lesser silty
loam over red clay and over brown clay.

Inkwell Shiraz ($40)

Inkwell 2011 Scarce Earth Shiraz

Cherry conserve edge to the aromas with some fresh herbs with the unusual finish of dustiness with red licorice notes.  Lots going on here – even before the wine enters ones mouth.  once the wines hit my mouth I got an interesting mix of red and blue fruits with, this time, dried herbs.  The wine lingered and interestingly I thought the tannins were not too strong, however they certainly were drying to the teeth.  I have been lucky to have seen this in barrels and the discrete individual parcels of wine – this is definitely a case of the blend being better than any of the individual components.

District 7 or Maslin Beach / Bayliss

Soils – coastal land with undulating rises to the east on sand, not heavy clay. Heavy black cracking clay soil with lesser silty loam over red clay and over brown clay.  Moderate to steep slopes along Pedler Creek with sandy loam over red clay, sandy loam over brown clay and black-brown cracking clay.

Kangarilla Road Scarce Earth Project Shiraz ($60)

Kangarillia Road 2011 Scarce Earth Project Shiraz

As per last year this wine from a Maslins Beach vineyard (same vineyard and same grower) produces something different.  On the nose I got blackberry conserve with dried herbs (oregano and lavender) with an inherent minerality.  The blackberry conserve component is even more fitting for the flavours with that same minerality and slightly chewy tannins.

District 9 or Onkaparinga Hills

Soil: Loam over red clay on limey rock and shallow calcareous loam along the frontal hills from Pedler Creek in south to Morphett Vale in north.  Generally thin patchy soil with gravel and extensive outcrop of Neoproterozoic rocks on the moderate to steep slopes flanking Onkaparinga River. Loam over red or brown clay on bedrock and shallow stony loam.

Chapel Hill Winery The Chosen Road Block Shiraz ($75)

A cherry orientated aroma hints at an early picking regime for this vineyard (next to the Chapel Hill facility).  This wine shows red fruits and its class is defined by the length this wine stays on the palate.  The tannins were a little course but as expected this wine is made for the long haul and really needs some time to even get close to it’s best.

Chapel Hill Winery The Chosen House Block Shiraz ($75)

As expected this wine is high class and so different that the Road Block that is so close but so far.  I got lots of peat on this one and I expected this wine may have had some Blewitt Springs action (before I found out it was definitely from the House Block).  Big red and black fruits, subtle spice and dried herbs with a drying tannin finish.  The tannins were more than I expected from a Scare Earth Project wine however the wine is structured for success and will be thriving for at least the next 10 years.

Coriole Galaxicidia Single Block ($50)

Made from grapes grown on the Coriole vineyards (15 years old) near the cellar door and winery complex.  This wine is all about the vibrant red fruits with the licorice finish that one gets often with McLaren Vale Shiraz.  More of a medium bodied wine and thus different than the others from this district.

McLaren Vale Wine – 2011 McLaren Vale Scarce Earth Project Shiraz Part 1

The McLaren Vale Scarce Earth Project has just released the third vintage of single vineyard Shiraz.  I have reviewed the project before and an outline of what the project is about and how a winery is judged to be Scarce Earth worthy can be found here.

The 2011 vintage was challenging with wet and cool conditions during the key ripening period.  There was some average wine made during this vintage but as with all years this generalisation is dangerous.   Good management and care in the vineyard and the winery can produce excellent wine even when conditions are “challenging”.   I was looking forward to this tasting to see how the different wineries worked their grapes.

This year I want to concentrate on the geology differences and how the McLaren Vale region has been split up into a number of different areas based not on location but on soil and weather types.  The geological map is shown below and I will reference the various districts in the wine reviews.

McLaren Vale Sub Region Map


District 1 also known as the Sellicks Foothills

The soil is categorized as gently sloping fans and level flats formed on gravelly clay out wash sediments. Silty loam over red clay, silty loam over brown clay and in the west, black cracking clay.

Cradle of Hills Row 23 Shiraz ($45)

2011 Cradle of Hills Row 23 Shiraz

Made from the same vineyard as last year and has lovely fresh fruits and florals with white pepper aromas.  The flavours are a little green (maybe some of the grape seeds were a little green) which is not unexpected from the wet vintage conditions.  Clean fruit and acid with minimal tannins.  Some licorice pokes it head through on the back of the palate.

District 2 also known as Delabole.

The soils are similar to District 1 but is further from the ocean and thus has less coastal effects.

Shirvington Wines The Redwin Shiraz ($45)

From a Willunga vineyard close to the Willunga escarpment and I suspect in black clay soils.  Why do I say this?  Well the wine is all about strength.  Strong fruit, chocolate and violets with hints of peat (wich I was not expecting).  The strength continues in the mouth with the peat and violets continuing with the addition of a chocolate finish and the lick of french oak cedar.

District 3 also known as Strout.

The soil is categorized as gently sloping fans and level flats formed on gravelly outwash sediments in southern 4.5km. Silty loam over red clay, silty loam over brown clay and in the west, black cracking clay. Gentle slopes formed on heavy clay out wash sediments in northern 1.5km. Sandy loam over poorly-structured brown clay.  The impact from the ocean is less than in Districts 1 & 2.

Battle of Bosworth Chanticleer Single Vineyard Shiraz ($45)

Summed up with bright fruits, florals and pepper that is long lasting in the mouth.  Probably a little disjointed at this time and needs time in the bottle to be a little beauty.

Battle of Bosworth Braden’s Single Vineyard Shiraz ($45)

From a Bay of Biscay clay soil vineyard and based on this I was expecting strength.  Compared to the other BoB offering that is what was on offer.  The fruit was the hero here with a fine licorice finish.

Halifax Per Se Block ($65)

I have been a bog fan of all the offerings from Halifax and just love the philosophy of Peter (wine maker) who wants his wines to be expressions of the vineyard and the fruit is the key.  Minimal oak influences are seen here.  This wine just continues this focus with aromas of  red and blue fruit (not expecting this for a Shiraz and was definitely a point of difference to the other Scarce Earth wines) with perfume florals.  The flavours go through layers of the plum fruit, licorice, florals and a touch a cinnamon with just a slight lick of oak tannins.  Yes I really like this wine.

Coriole Willunga Old Vine Shiraz ($50)

From a 95 year old vineyard and dark fruit character abounds.  Deep black fruits with a white pepper side dish.  The oak was a little more obvious than the other wines so far but not over done.

McLaren Vale Wines – 2013 Vintage Report

Well Vintage in McLaren Vale is all but over (I suspect that some grapes destined for fortified wine are still to be picked) and it is time to reflect on the Vintage.

The lead up to the Vintage period was looking so good it had us all salivating.  The winter rains had subsoil moisture levels higher than previously recorded.  This meant that the vines did not need watering until quite deep into Summer.  The beginning of Summer was quite mild with little rain that indicated a potential for a long ripening period for the grapes.  No storm activity was also appreciated by the vines.  Leading into January I was hearing that the coming vintage was shaping up to be even better than 2012 (2012 was considered by many as being the best vintage conditions for the last 15 to 20 years).

McLaren Vale Shiraz (Marius Vineyard)

Then came January and February with high temperatures and effectively no rain.  This combination brought on grape maturity very quickly.  An example of this was at the Marius Vineyard where picking was organised for early March but had to be brought forward by 2 weeks due to the high rates of sugars developing quickly.

The order of grapes being picked was also different than “normal”.  In most years white wine varieties are picked before red wine varieties.  Well this year we had Shiraz frequently picked before any white grapes from the same property.

Grape De-stemmer

With the hot weather and the quick development of the grapes the wineries were stretched with a compressed time frame to process a below average volume of grapes.  No sooner had fermenters emptied they were filled again.  It was tight and long hours were to be had but I believe most if not all grapes that were supposed to be picked were.

The result was a number of very tired people working long hours to make what looks to be a high quality wine.  The key to this vintage seemed to be keeping close eye on the vineyards and picking at the right time and having the capacity in the winery to cope with the compressed time frames.  There will be some excellent wines come from this vintage but at this stage the overall analysis would be not as good as 2012.

Pressing the Barbuckle Project Shiraz

One pivotal milestone for the 2013 was that I have made a small volume of wine – the Barbuckle Project Shiraz.  More on his one later.

Backpacker’s McLaren Vale Style

One area I would like to put my opinion out there is all about the back packers who descend on McLaren Vale.  For the first time I met some of these people and got to know a little about what they do.  Most of the above group come from Europe and are traveling around Australia.  These people want to pick the grapes so earn some money to survive on while backpacking.  There seems to be a limited number of Aussies who want to pick the grapes – it is hard work for people that have not done it before.  I picked grapes 2 days this year and I was totally stuffed by the end of the day.  There is a tide of distain for these backpackers, like they should not be here.  So here is the thing – who else is going to pick the grapes?  Who else is going to go home to speak about the interesting times they had in Australia and what wonderful wines they tried here?  Who else is going to look for the wines that were made from the grapes they picked?

I would like to put it out there that we should welcome these people here during vintage – maybe we should create some facility where they can stay with their old Combi Vans, where they can have a shower and not be hounded to move on when they find a place to stay over night.

This year a met a few of these people (see the picture above) and they are wonderful people wanting to experience this beautiful country of ours (who would blame them) and to do this earn some money doing something that most of us do not want to do.  I do not have all the answers and yes I understand these are general statements but lets see how we can do this better next year.  You never know the group above, and others like them, may spark the next generation of world wide Australian Wine drinkers!

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