We “do” tastings at Exel fairly often, so we do. Wines, gins, whiskies, liqueurs: we give the Perth faithful their chance to try these whenever we can. And, now and again, if we try something a bit unusual, we like to let our internet customers know as well.
Friday last was definitely "a bit unusual". Being, as we are, on the edge of the Highlands, it’s not every day we get the offer of a guided tasting by the owner of one of Australis’s leading and most innovative wineries. So it was a delight when Diana Palmer, co-owner of Skillogalee (with husband Dave) let us know she’d like to drop in. This became even more of a delight as we watched the twentysomething guests assembled on South Street try some unusual wines. Hold on three short paragraphs (the impatient may scroll down) and we’ll tell you more about them.
Potted Skillogalee story: Dave and Diana Palmer left the UK, winding up in Canberra after a diplomatic, six-year stint in Papua New Guinea. By this point, Skillogalee had already entered their lives, mainly because they’d drunk plenty of it with the eldest son of the owners, and sold it at a festival. Then they heard that the winery was up for sale… so they sold the Canberra house and the sports car, packed up the kids and the cat, and moved to South Australia.
What drew them to this small corner of the Clare Valley? Beyond the wines, it was possibly the mature, established vineyards - beautifully contoured and equipped to produce everything from aromatic Riesling and Gewürztraminer to beefy Cabernet and Shiraz, plus lusciously sweet liqueur Muscat. Clare Valley, some 100km north of Adelaide and described by Jancis Robinson as “one of the unspoilt gems of Southern Australia” can do this, of course, owing to its comparatively higher altitudes and cooler climes (and particularly cooler nights).
But they were following in earlier English footsteps too. Skillogalee was given its name by Lancashire-born explorer John Horrocks, after a troubled expedition into the Flinders Ranges when Skillogalee – a Celtic name for a thin gruel – was all they had left to eat. Meanwhile, Trevarrick – Skillogalee’s finest Riesling (see below) – comes from the property’s original name, Trevarrick Farm, given to it in 1851 by Cornish miner John Trestrail – who built the stone cottage which still serves as Skillogalee’s cellar door. You’ll find a whole lot more about Skillogalee, and all its attractions (restaurant, accommodation, wines) here.
So, these wines:
In the order that we tasted them:
The 2016 Riesling (£13.65 a bottle) was a palpable hit and sold well. This delivered a huge zing of super-fresh acidity and an intense hint of citrus fruit, particularly limes (Diana tells us these are Tahitian limes: as lime amateurs, we’ll accept that, but only just). It’s super dry: I’d estimate 2g/l of residual sugar (RS) at most, making for a beautifully balanced and taut glass of wine – there’s not a sniff of flabbiness here. We’ve long been stocking dry Australian Rieslings at Exel and this is unquestionably our favourite: At the price, it’s an excellent bottle indeed.
The 2015 Trevarrick Riesling (£23.10) is Skillogalee’s luxury, single-vineyard super-Riesling and it shows. It delivers additional intensity and elegance when directly compared with the “standard” Riesling (how very denigrating that sounds): the key sensations for me were of extra lightness, florality and 'blossomy-ness' (no, I’m not sure, either). It’s every bit as dry as the “standard”. At £23, it’s a big ticket for a New World Riesling, but one in the top echelon. It’s a 'treat Riesling', I’d say, not a 'session Riesling'.
(all most unexpectedly for me).
Skillogalee UK-importer John had cryptically briefed me before the evening that “it’s like no Gewürz you’ve ever tried before”. Now, I’ve tried a quite a few Gewürz(es) and regard myself a reasonable Gewürzcritic, but he was dead right. For here there is no room for residual sugar – this is almost as dry as the Rieslings (perhaps 3-4g/litre of RS) - making it a rare beast indeed. All of that ripe sugar - that Gewürztraminer is so very good at creating - has been turned to alcohol (14.7% abv), but, note clearly, in a way that creates great body and depth – and which ‘carries’ the intensity of the fruit - rather than just creating Big Booze. The classical rich, tropical fruit flavours are headily intense here, made all the richer by that underlying dryness. I thought I’d had my Best White of the Year with either this or this, but I see the need to conduct yet another head-to-head contest soon to check. Seriously, for interest and intensity, do not miss this Gewürz.
The 2014 Basket-Pressed Shiraz (£15.75) smelled wonderful when it went into the decanter and even better when it came out. We pretty much sold out on the evening … because the Perth tasters really liked this. But this is no Barossa/McLaren Vale/Padthaway Megashiraz™. As Diana explained, the altitude and temperatures of Clare lend the Skilogalee a more restrained and elegant air, and that’s why you drink this. You get all the big flavours – black berry fruit, plums, eucalyptus etc – just in a more refined way. Think, perhaps, of Côte-Rotie when compared with Cornas. I'll confess that I wasn’t the biggest fan of this wine as I adore the bigger flavours that you get from the Rhone, Barossa and McLaren Vale. Or maybe I just need another bottle and a really good burger.
Which left the curtain-closer: the esoteric NV Liqueur Muscat (£29.50). And this was seriously fun. I’d perhaps expected something REALLY sticky, like a Pedro-Ximenez or (more in-country) a Rutherglen Muscat. Both of those often find themselves described as “Christmas cake in a bottle”. Well, this has Christmas in its veins, but with an altogether fresher fruit feel: more apricots and plums, not just dates and raisins. It’s around 150-170g/l of RS, so wonderfully sweet without being cloying and totally treacly. At approaching 20% abv, it needs careful handling – definitely not for sessions – but is a great after dinner alternative to dessert wine or port.
It’s hard selling stuff on the internet, you know. See, I’m fairly sure that, had you but been with us in Perth on Friday, I wouldn’t have had to write this to try to convince you. But, if you are open you to persuasion, these are definitely wines to be persuaded by….