About two years ago I was invited to a lunch at Northcote Manor for the Coonawarra Winemakers. I hadnt been there before and chef had been fairly complementary about it, so I took them up on their invitation. So after a fairly long and thankfully uneventful drive I found myself in the middle of nowhere and luckily stumbled upon Northcote Manor.
The event had been set-up by Judy Kendrick and was a gathering of the great names of Coonawarra. Ian Hollick, Kym Tolley, Wayne Stehbens, H Dennis Vice, and a few other folks whose name escapes me. A fantastic lunch was laid on with tastings of several blockbuster wines before hand. For me there was one wine which stood head and shoulders above the rest and that was the Highbank Basket pressed Estate Red wine. It had a vibrant eucalyptus/menthol note but really opulent red fruit character, finely integrated tannins with a soft smooth finish that begged for more to follow. I managed to blag an extra glassful to accompany the lamb hotpot that was the basis of the main course and Im glad I did. The aroma of the wine was leaping out from the glass, I was hooked. It took me a little while to track it down, but eventually I found a small independant supplier who had a limited stock available. Apparently Dennis Vice only makes about 200 cases a year of the wine. With Trevor Mast (Mt Langhi Ghiran) as consultant winemaker, this wine sells out to the small mailing list of exclusive restaurants around Australia. Dennis exports less than a dozen cases a year, because quite frankly he doesnt need to. But damn am I glad that he does. Hopefully the production will increase a little and maybe some more will come over here. Unfortunately our supplier of this fantastic wine has since gone out of business, so Im back to square one.
Anyway I managed to sell a bottle tonight, so it was interesting to revisit it after a gap of nearly year. It was a bit tighter on the nose immediately after opening, but the menthol aromas are still omnipresent. The fruit seems denser and more malty fruit cake in character, with spicy notes. But after an hour in the decanter, the menthol still shines forward, but there is much more fruit evident on the nose. Big juicy blackcurrants and forest berries with a sprinkling of cinnamon and anise. On the palate the tannins are really soft and silky with the fruit taking a more prominant role than the oaky flavours. It has an amazing length that seems to get mintier as it fades. I am going to have to renew my search for this wine, because it has got so much better over the last year. I want to get some for myself!!
Dennis is a lecturer in Viticulture at Mt Gambier, but he also makes some wines under the Protero label from fruit sourced in the Adelaide Hills. The Viognier is outstanding, but the chardonnay is also the bollocks. Rich minerally style with well integrated oak. Im going to have to add them to my search list now as well. Oh well more fun to be had.