April 15th, Dan Phillips Tasting

This past Thursday, I attended a tasting and dinner with Dan Phillips (a.k.a. The Grateful Palate) and seven other experienced tasters. The tasting took place at Benito’s Restaurant located in Union, New Jersey. Lets see there were eight guests and at least fourteen wines on hand. Definitely my kind of tasting! Let me first say that I loved all of the wines! I should add that I could not remember another tasting where so many profound wines were poured! I have tasting notes on most if not all of the wines. I also had the distinct pleasure of sitting next to Dan Phillips and talking shop with him most of the evening. 

Before I get into my tasting notes, I would like to tell you a bit about Dan Phillips and his passion for Australian wine. For those who don’t know, Dan Phillips is an importer of fine Australian wine and specialty food products. According to Dan, he first visited Australia in June of 1997. He brought back samples of wine from that trip and was so impressed with the quality of these wines that he telephoned Quanta’s two days later and demanded an immediate return flight…no matter what the cost. 

Dan’s reputation for picking quality producers such as the Burge Family, Three Rivers and Fox Creek, among many others, has not only caught the attention of the likes of Robert Parker but also establishes him at the forefront of luxury Australian wine imports! When asked, Dan indicated that his girlfriend came up with the name, “The Grateful Palate” and the rest as they say is history. 

We started with a couple Sauvignon Blanc’s, moved to an outstanding Chardonnay and the main entrée of reds and concluded with a forty year old Port. Given that we tasted from less than perfect restaurant tasting glasses, the wines all showed remarkably well. To my notes: 

’97 Giaconda Chardonnay- This French styled unfiltered Chardonnay was great from the get go and only improved in glass over the course of the evening. No one at our table would have picked this as an Australian Chardonnay. The nose and palate resemble a classic white Burgundy such as a Coche-Dury Meursault! The vanilla infused bouquet offers up full-blown aromatics of honeyed Chardonnay and creamy hazelnut fragrances. On the palate, the wine is stunningly complex, unbelievably rich and sumptuous! It shows vibrant acidity and also finishes very well. The ’97 Gianconda Chardonnay should drink and improve over the next five to seven years. This is a simply compelling wine that I would buy on nose alone. Score it “96”. 

’97 R.B.J. Theologicum- This equal parts Mourvedre/Grenache blend brings new meaning to the words “melts in your mouth”! This lush, flesh-pot of a wine showed silky yet concentrated flavors of pepper, herb and leather. Add to that Rhone like flavors with a medium to medium/full texture. Drink it over the next seven years.
Score it “91”.

’97 Noon Eclipse- This 65% Grenache and 35% Shiraz showed a medium to full bodied texture and slightly coarse and aggressive tannins. While some of the other wines were flamboyant and singing, this wine together with the Noon Reserve was not. Aside from the slightly aggressive initial and mid palate, the wine shows great power, extract and grip. Hold for two years. Score it “90+”.

’97 Killibinbin K Shiraz, Langhorne Creek- Another wine that was great from the get go!  What I liked most about the K Shiraz was the harmony and balance of flavors in the blend. The wine possesses all the qualities to make one an instant fan! The K Shiraz offers up a sweet, cotton candied scented nose to go along with a good dollop of blackberry and cassis scented fruit. It is a flashy in your face style of wine that was very pleasurable to drink. Drink it over the next eight years. Score it “93”.

’97 Wild Duck Creek Estate Springflat Shiraz- Next to the massive Springflat Reserve and some of the other wines, the regular Shiraz was a bit overwhelmed. What it did show was a good inner core of ripe blackberry like fruit, medium toast and a moderate finish. Score it “89+”.

’94 Wild Duck Creek Estate Springflat Shiraz, Reserve- Otherwise known as “Wild Duck Muck”. Airtime changed this wine from good to great to profound! This is another densely packed monster of a wine. I was shocked with the level of ripeness and highly extracted core fruit. Over the course of dinner, this wine seemed to improve dramatically in my glass. The bouquet was like a smorgasbord of fantastic otherworldly aromas. Ripe plums, dense black fruits, anise, exotic spices, and a cotton candied scented nose were outstanding. The palate impression mirrored the nose with exceptionally rich, ripe, sweet fruit, tar, soft dry tannins, vanilla and a purity of “jammy” fruit that must be experienced to be believed. Score it “96”. 

’96 Burge Reserve, Shiraz – My third tasting note on the Burge Reserve. What more can I say about this wine. Although I fully expected the Burge reserve to blow everything else off the table, it did not. I still say that the wine is a dead ringer for the ’91 Grange!  The nose is dominated by fragrances of Raspberry, licorice and medium to full toast. On the palate, the Burge Reserve is seamless as well very flavorful. The wine offers up a luscious mix of ripe black fruits, bacon fat, licorice, tar and dense prune and mocha like flavors. Its impeccable balance and Grange like mouth feel make the Burge Reserve one of my favorites of the evening! Score it “97”

’96 Torbreck Run Rig, Shiraz- This is big juicy hulk of a wine that is very fragrant as well delicious to drink today! I was simply stunned with the wines aromatic complexity. Medium to full toast, licorice, coffee and sweet Raspberry scented fruit explode from the glass. On the palate, the wine offers up a silky texture with an expansive multi-layered concentration of incredible super-ripe cassis and blackberry like fruits. This medium to full-bodied wine has only ripe tannins with no trace of harshness. The wine is so deceivingly forward right now and has the potential to last twenty years or more! Score it “98”.

’97 Fox Creek Reserve, Shiraz- Believe it or not, the ’97 Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz is more deeply scented than the ‘96 Fox Creek Reserve and cuts a fuller more complete profile on both nose and palate. The bouquet while somewhat tight and ungenerous does offer up deeply scented aromas of sweet raspberry compote, minerals and spice. In the mouth, the ’97 Fox Creek Reserve shows massive power, extract and grip a la the ’96 Fox Creek Reserve and offers up a bit more concentration and extract. Drink it over the next fifteen years. Score it “98”    

’97 Noon Reserve, Shiraz- The bouquet while somewhat tight and ungenerous does offer up deeply scented aromas of dense Blackberry like fruit, minerals and spice. In the mouth, the Noon Reserve was also a bit tight, hard and definitely not as open as most of the other wines. However, there is great promise here! In addition to the tannins, the wine offers up a mountain of highly extracted fruit and background spice. Hold for two years. Score it “92”. 

’94 Three Rivers, Shiraz- Dan seemed to think that this wine was close to perfection and after a couple of whiffs and sips, I could see why. The nose pales in comparison to the stunning palate impression. In the mouth, the wine is literally oozing with rich, ripe, fleshy black currant flavors leading to a super sexy mouth-feel. Layer upon layer of dense fruit masks the mountain of tannins. Words like syrup, jelly and port like best describe the wines texture. Simply put, it’s texture and depth of fruit make the ’94 Three Rivers unmistakably recognizable! Drink it over the next fifteen years. Score it "97”. 

My favorites of the evening were ’97 Fox Creek Reserve-Shiraz, ’96 Torbreck Run Rig-Shiraz, ’94 Three Rivers-Shiraz, ’96 Burge Reserve-Shiraz, ’94 Wild Duck Creek Estate Springflat Reserve Shiraz, ’97 Giaconda Chardonnay and the ’97 Killibinbin K Langhorne Creek-Shiraz.

Special thanks goes to Gary Vaynerchuk of the Wine Library for arranging the tasting and Dan Phillips for providing the monumental wines for the event!