Southern Starz Tasting
November 24, 2001

This past Saturday I had coordinated a tasting and dinner featuring a number of red wines from the Southern Starz portfolio.  Southern Starz offers a number of outstanding wines (both red and white)  from premium producers located in the Southern Hemisphere.  Most notable of these are there impressive offerings from Australia and South Africa.  A total of two South African and eight Australian wines were served un-blind over a three hour period.  This was my first experience with the bulk of these wines and it was indeed a real treat to taste them all.  Below are my individual tasting notes.  I should add that my individual tasting scores ranged from a high of "94" to a low of "87".  Given that all these wines sell in the $15.00 to $29.00 price range, they all represent an excellent quality price ratio.

The tasting took place at the Chef's Table Restaurant located in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. I think everyone would agree that the cuisine was excellent and the food and wine pairings worked out very favorably.  During dinner, we were able to go back and re-taste the wines over the course of several hours. The first two wines that we tasted were from  South Africa while the remaining eight were from various regions of Australia.  I also took a number of photo's and will add the images here as soon as I get them developed.  To my notes:

1999 Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon -- South Africa-- Aged 22 months in French ooak. Very dark ruby color leading to a nose of plum, black currant, earth and leather. Medium fullish on the palate with fine extract and very good "robust" Cabernet flavors as well as medium coarse tannins. In addition to the tannins, the wine offers up a good dose of alcohol with a medium to fullish concentration Add to that a coarse, dry leather quality. Still a very fine wine which would have benefited from additional breathing. Drink it over the next twelve years or more. My first tasting note, score it "92+".

1999 Slaley Cabernet/Merlot --South Africa-- 68% Cabernet and 32% Merlot. Shows a lovely cabernet and oak scented nose. Medium bodied on the palate with fine extract and very good silky fruit flavors. Lush and delicious to drink today. Much more accessible than the Neil Ellis Cabernet was although not as concentrated. Drink it over the next eight years. My first tasting note, score it "91".

1999 Penna Lane Cabernet Sauvignon- Probably the groups favorite and an absolute steel for $17.99! Deep ruby color. Nose opens with a  full throttle bouquet suggesting chocolate, black currants and a good dollop of toasty oak. Palate mirrored the nose and is just bursting with succulent core fruit flavors suggesting lush black fruits, moderate toast and vanilla bean. Add to that a fat sweetness to it's taste that was, for the lack of a better term, a "real knockout"! My third tasting note and the best bottle to date, score it "92+".

1999 St. Mary's Cabernet- Deep, dark ruby color. Lovely nose of medium to full toast, licorice and spicy Raspberry scented fruit. Medium fullish on the palate with good core fruit flavors and a moderate finish. My first tasting note, score it "89".

2000 Craneford Quartet- An interesting blend of 38% Petite Verdot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc and 13% Syrah. Deep, black and purple like color. Fragrant and flavorful with good core fruit flavors, fine extract and a moderate finish. Drink it over the next eight to ten years...simply delicious. My first tasting note, score it "91".

1999 Sylvan Springs Shiraz- Medium to dark ruby color. Nose of licorice, Raspberry and heavy spice. Medium bodied with good "core" fruit flavors suggesting blackberry, Licorice and moderate oak. My first tasting note, score it "89".

1999 Water Wheel Shiraz- Medium ruby color. Not as deeply pigmented as some of the other wines. Palate comes across as slightly unbalanced with washed out flavors and a moderate finish. I expected a tad more from this Estate. Perhaps just an "off" bottle? My first tasting note, score it "87".

2000 Longwood Shiraz- Medium fullish ruby color. Showing focused but tight aromatics. This wine took a good sixty minutes to begin to show its stuff. Earthy, leathery palate impression ever so slowly giving way to reveal significant background fruit, extract and grip. The wine requires about a year or two to knit together. My first tasting note, score it "90+".

1999 Kurtz Shiraz- Medium to dark ruby color. Explosive nose of licorice and full toast. Lovely Barossa raspberryish palate with fine extract and moderate concentration. Add to that a good lashing of vanilla oak flavors. Slightly outclassed by some of the others but very good nonetheless.  Drink it over the next five years. My first tasting note, score it "89".

2000 Oliverhill Shiraz- Aged in French oak and certainly not your typical Shiraz. Could easily pass for a luxury Californian Syrah at double the price. Some were put off by the lack of toasty American oak. Go figure. Dense, port like color suggesting ink and oil. Nose opens with intense aromas of crushed blackberry like fruits, black plum and licorice aromatics. Palate comes across with a medium fullish concentration and an exquisite mouth feel. The 1998 Oliverhill Shiraz is just loaded with massive amounts of extract and black raspberry like flavors. Large scaled and just bursting with tremendous core fruit and flavor. Finish must have lasted 35 seconds or so. Drink it over the next twelve years. My favorite of the evening as well as my first tasting note, score it "94".