Ian Hongell, the Senior Winemaker at Peter Lehmann winery in the Barossa region of Australia is a direct, concise and confident winemaker who speaks with passion and authority, not just about wines but everything else he talks about. If there is a wine region that is as territorial as Napa Valley about the quality of their wines the folks in the industry from the Barossa, AU are perhaps even more adamant about their terroir (they are not Australian wines, they are wines of the Barossa). In my opinion Bordeaux, Burgundy, Sonoma, Tuscany and Rioja have the same attitude just not as much of it.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ian to taste through the current Lehmann portfolio wines in a really cool space I had heard of, but not actually been to, called Red Slate. It was nice to speak with a winemaker from another continent and be regaled with tales of motorcycles and baseball in the same no nonsense manner Ian presented his wines. His style might have something to do with his mentor Peter Lehmann who faced overcoming odds early in his career and brought together all the growers of the Barossa when the wine business dealt them a rotten hand and it looked as though it might be the end. Lehmann talked all the growers into trusting him to make the wine and sell it then pay them after the sale. That must have taken a huge leap of faith for those growers but they took it and it worked. Thus earning Peter Lehmann the reputation of a man that always did what he said he would do. To this day that reputation still stands.
Let’s get back on track and talk a little about what is exciting at Peter Lehmann Wines of the Barossa these days. After tasting through these wines, I was reminded of why they have the same attitude about their wines as I do about Memphis BBQ.
2009 Riesling: a great example of dry Riesling, the minerality is expressive and citrus notes refreshing.
2009 Layers White: This white wine has a lot going on and it should with a backbone of tasty Semillon, a little Muscat, some Pinot Gris that brings a bit of acidity and for the small amount of Gewurztraminer you could really pick up the floral notes and depth this varietal has to offer. This blend is rounded out by a bit of Chardonnay making it one of the tastiest racy white wines I have imbibed upon in a while.
2008 Shiraz: is a textbook example of what this varietal expresses when the winemaker knows his craft and pristine fruit is presented to him to fulfill his mission. At Peter Lehmann, I think they have always been spot-on when it comes to keeping this wines flavor profile varietally correct. No confected spectrum of fruit here, the wine showcases the savory aspect the legacy of Lehmann wines are known for.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: with 5 years of aging this wine is in a prefect window of maturity for consumption and like the previous statement about styles from this producer, they keep that same theory when producing Cabernets. Another trait of Lehmann is their wines lead with the fruit—no whiff of oak on the opening. Tannins are mature and gentle focusing on the fruit.
2008 Clancy’s Red: A blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this wine has a style that is indicative of Barossa. There is a plum, black pepper, cola, and black olive smell. Big on the palate with the flavors staying similar to the smells delivering a very complete package showcasing all this wine has to offer.
2008 Layers Red: A blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre, Grenache, Tempranillo and Carignane, it brings a lot to the table and would always be welcomed at mine, especially around dinnertime. There is a balance of flavors and an essence of intrigue that draws one to this wine again and again after the first taste.
The unbelievable truth is every one of these wines up to this point all retail for the same incredible low price of just over $10. Distributed locally by Youngs-Columbia Distribution.
Next, we tasted a couple of stunners. They will set you back a little more but well worth it and you would be hard pressed to find wines of equal quality for the price. The Eight Songs, Mentor and Stonewell—all three fantastic red wines.
2006 Mentor: Again the Lehmann’s have not rushed this one to market expecting consumers to have the patience to buy it and wait until it is ready. It receives the name Mentor because that is what Peter was to a lot of folks. It has fruit that can only come from low-yield old vine, complex and intense. The 18 months it spends in oak softens the tannins but it still shows huge structure almost eight years after fermentation. This one steps up in class as would be described by horse racing handicappers at the track. In all honesty, it is a true purebred at heart and expresses the pedigree the mid to upscale wines this winery produces and unlike so many other wineries who jack up the price but do not deliver on the quality this one stays true to Peter Lehmann’s philosophies.
2006 Eight Songs: Named after an Opera performed in Barossa. The eight songs are all based on the tunes played by an actual mechanical organ owned by George III, which he used to try and train bullfinches to sing. This monodrama portrays the mental illness that followed after his victories over France and loss of the American colonies. The Lehmann’s cleverly used the title for this wine for the many components and layers of complexity that this wine expresses.
Both these wines are a bargain at just over $20 per bottle. Suggested retail is $23 U.S. Run do not walk to snap these up if you love a big full-bodied wine.
2006 Stonewell Shiraz: This was the granddaddy of goodness in their lineup. A better example of Australian Shiraz I have not tasted in a long time. Some of the fruit comes from a vineyard that dates back to 1885, Stonewell is a prized district for Shiraz and it is obvious from the aromatic and flavor profiles offered up by this magical elixir. If you want to impress with a big boy red wine throw down your $50 and watch as your guests pontificate the quality of this benchmark from down under.
We also tasted a couple of dessert wines which personally are not my forte for consumption but as for judging the quality I tend to be more objective than folks who drink them on a regular basis. You cannot do better than these wines even if you spend an extra $20.
2009 Botrytis Semillon 375ml: If you have always looked for a good quality Sauternes style wine at a price that will not break the bank, this is the one to buy.
NV Classic Muscat 500ml: This wine is fortified while still on the skins offering up flavors and colors of a wine that underwent a Solera type process. When paired with Annette Stadleman’s Date Bread Pudding it was a match made in heaven. I thought I would take one bite and taste the wine, get my reference and move on, but I found myself finishing both the wine and the dish. Something I rarely do at dessert. These wines also retail for a bit over $10 and are perfect as aperitifs’ or dessert wines.
It was a great tasting and what was even better was lunch because we were having BBQ and it turned out to be genuine southern traditional smoked pulled pork and beef brisket, slow smoked over hardwood for hours and hours. I should have known if the Hess Collection, Jim Caudill and Annette Stadleman were involved it would be authentic. Even after living in the Northwest for over a decade, there is one thing I will never get used to. That is when people refer to grilling a piece of meat, poultry, fish or tofu on a grill as BBQ. If you know anyone who was born in Texas and or raised in Memphis, you probably know they share the same sentiment.
Well enough of my BBQ rant. Just get out there and try some Lehmann wines. They are all grown by small producers along with the estate fruit doing the best to keep the image and quality of wines from the Barossa exactly where they should be, high quality and value oriented on any level be it entry, mid-priced or their flagship line. Enjoy! And be rest assured these wines are all Macdaddy Marc approved. Check out the 2011 Peter Lehmann Tour Schedule coming to a city near you!
This article was originally published on oregonlive.com