Mon 13 Jun 2011
These attractive, approachable wines come from Henry’s Drive Vignerons, the winery in Australia’s Padthaway region that releases its products under labels that relate to the country’s 19th Century postal system. The Morse Code connection lies in the fact that it used to be postal telegraphists — a term that rates the common parlance nowadays of typesetters and clock-winders — that operated the keys that sent messages of alarm and condolence across vast networks of wires. The Morse Code wines occupy a price point just under the winery’s popular Pillar Box series. I’ll admit to a soft spot for anything to do with Morse Code, because my late father, who had a bug about education because he was not well-educated, insisted that our family — he and my mother, my older brother and I — learn Morse Code; this was in the early 1950s. You have to picture us sitting around the kitchen table after dinner, each with a telegraph key fastened to a small block of wood, using our little guidebooks to Morse Code and tapping out messages to each other. My mom: “D.i.d. y.o.u. l.e.a.r.n. a. l.o.t. a.t. s.c.h.o.o.l t.o.d.a.y.?” Me: “No.” We also came late to television.
Anyway, Padthaway is in South Australia, in an area called the Limestone Coast, not because there are great cliffs but because the sandy-loamy soil is based on old limestone-permeated seabeds. This is considerably south of the lovely city of Adelaide — wonderful bookstores! — facing the Indian Ocean to the southwest. Though Padthaway is inland, it still receives some maritime influence because of the relatively flat or gently rolling terrain. There’s not much rainfall: 19.7 inches average annually, with about 7.6 inches of rain during the growing season; irrigation is a precondition. Surprisingly, considering the climate and geography, chardonnay is the great success of the region, though riesling, shiraz (syrah) and cabernet sauvignon are also grown extensively.
Each of these wines is 100 percent varietal. The Morse Code on the label spells the name of the grape. Henry’s Drive wines are imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca. I tasted these wines with Kim Longbottom, the owner of Henry’s Drive, in Memphis last week.
Image of a very handsome telegraph key, slightly cropped, from mtechnologies.com.
The Morse Code Chardonnay 2010, Padthaway, South Australia, is lean and sprightly and as fresh as a sea-breeze. An array of lemony notes — lemon, lemon balm, roasted lemon — is woven with grapefruit and lime peel with a grounding in cloves and limestone. Keen acidity keeps the wine lively and puckish, buoying citrus flavors that open to a bit of peach and pear, ginger and quince marmalade. The wine saw a little oak, that is, about 30 percent spent four months in French barrels, and that manifestation lends a texture deftly balanced between moderate silky lushness and brisk, crisp liveliness. The finish brings in more spice and a burgeoning, scintillating limestone element. 13.5 percent alcohol. A perfect white wine for porch, patio and picnic. Very Good+. About $9.
The Morse Code Shiraz 2009, Padthaway, South Australia, is given a whisper of oak, but is largely made in stainless steel. This is an eminently drinkable shiraz that displays a beguiling elevated quality of blackberry and blue plum scents infused with licorice and lavender, a touch of eucalyptus, and a smoky, fleshy, slightly roasted element; a few minutes in the glass add hints of blueberry and rhubarb. The smoky, slightly leathery character increases in the mouth, as does an earthy-graphite-tinged element that gives the wine some backbone and bottom while never challenging the freshness and appeal of its delicious fruity essence. Tannins are sleek and supple, a bit velvety but subdued and nicely balanced. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try with burgers and steaks, hearty pasta dishes and pizzas. Very Good+. About $9.