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“Wow, that’s special!” I said, pulling back the glass from my lips having just tasted from one of our barrels in late 2005.
I pulled the chalk out of my pocket and marked the barrel with the unique symbol that declared it earmarked for something special.
I truly believe, every winery needs a top-of-the-tree, high-calibre wine and so this barrel and a very select few like it would go on to become our very first vintage of the Smidge ‘S’ in 2005. That year it would be nominated for the George Mackay Trophy for Australia’s Best Exported Wine.
Marking the barrels, classifying them has become a process that I truly enjoy but its also critical, especially when it comes to the ‘S’.
When you press each fermenter, you experience a level of quality that is a combination of flavour and structure and then the journey begins…..to start sorting the pieces of the puzzle of where each parcel might end up.
The ‘S’ represents the best barrels of Shiraz, specifically chosen to showcase the best attributes of soil and growing conditions in the different subregions of the Barossa Valley. ‘S’ comes from the word ‘Smitch’, which is the Celtic word that ‘Smidge’ was derived from.
The barrels of wine will mature slightly differently, some remaining fruit driven, while others pick up nuances of oak, then over time complexity builds. Even after the best barrels are identified and marked with their own unique symbol, various blends of each are trialed until the final ‘S’ is created, with some of the original barrels selected missing out at the final cut.
This is one of the reasons why, each bottle of ‘S’ is approximately 4 years in the making, it’s an adventure in patience, persistence and excitement, all for the love of creating a wine that is truly special.
Since 2005, our ‘S’ has grown to become everything that we hold dear, everything that we want Smidge Wines to be. A wine for people from all walks of life who just love and appreciate a bottle of something special and the amazing experience that comes with it.
You might say that the Smidge Wines ‘S’ is a smidge of everything that is Smidge Wines.
Important Note: Each vintage of 'S' is often heavily pre-sold, we try and keep a few dozen aside for sale on the website so everyone has an opportunity to enjoy something 'S'pecial. The latest vintage release, 2016 is no different, with 80% pre-sold. To secure a bottle or two for yourself, please visit the 'S' purchase page.
Several pairs of hands reached skyward, connected to arms, shoulders and bodies leaping, all trying to snare the red leather sherrin as it came tumbling down towards the pack.
The ball bounced off hands, bobbled and disappeared into the tangled mess of bodies that was the pack fighting for the ball. Then the gasps of parents from the opposition team told us something unbelievable had happened. The smallest kid on the field and smallest by a long way, emerged from the pack, red sherrin in hand.
But that was our son Oscar, the smallest boy in his grade and shorter than many in the grade below him, but playing football like he thought was 7 foot tall and bullet proof.
He zipped past a stunned defender and then put ball to boot, sending it forward. His coach screaming encouragement from the sidelines, “Good on you Gutsy! Get in there!”
Gutsy had become Oscar’s moniker, for the way he played, fearless, undaunted, determined and for the love of the game.
It was a little while later as we were standing in the barrel shed, tasting a new shiraz we’d been working on for a couple of years, that the name came to be for Smidge Wines.
The shiraz grapes had come from the cooler climate of the Adelaide hills and in the world of wine, it had no right to stand toe to toe with the likes of Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale shiraz. Yet here it was, playing with the big boys, fearless, undaunted, determined…..Gutsy.
So our Adelaide Hills Shiraz became known as the “Gutsy” for it played with the same heart and character as our youngest son and in doing so, it has come to give the big names a run for their money.
Highlighting the wonderful flavours of varietals that are not well-known in Australia is one of the great pleasures of owning Smidge Wines.
It’s an opportunity to offer a rare, even unique experience with Australian wine that complements local favourites such as Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
We have several so-called “alternative varietals” available at the moment, including a Tempranillo, Montepulciano, Grenache and Grenache Carignan.
A Smidge varietal that is making a splash right now is our Pedra Branca Saperavi, which hails from the McLaren Vale.
It won Equal Top Gold last year at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. And while making wine isn’t about gongs and plaudits, it was a great feeling to have this marvellous wine recognised.
In the journal Real Review, Nick Bulter gave it 91 out of 100 and observed its “dense, opaque purple colour”, and he wrote of its “earthy aromas of bitumen and rosemary with red-toned red berry fruits”.
“It’s juicy and fresh on the palate, syrupy raspberry liqueur notes tapering into black olive and dark truffle savouriness,” he said. The tannins were “soft and plush – rare in this variety”.
Rare is an excellent description of our Pedra Branca Saperavi. The grape originated from Georgia and was planted in many republics of the former Soviet Union. It is unusual because it had red skin and flesh, which gives the wine its rich, dense colour.
During the communist era, it became a favourite grape for semi-sweet and fortified wines because its high acidic levels made it perfect for blending. The fact that it can survive extreme cold before flourishing in spring and warm summers made it ideal for the old Soviet Union.
But the Saperavi grape also thrives in the warm days and mild nights of the McLaren Vale, where it has been growing for a decade.
For those of you who like pairing their wine with food, I’ve found it delicious with game and other rich, meaty dishes. With its fulsome flavour and deep, intense red colour, it’s ideal winter-time drinking.
If you’d like to experience this wonderful McLaren Vale varietal, with its history steeped in the traditional winemaking of Georgia and its popularity founded inside the collapsed Soviet Union, you’ll need to move quite quickly.
As the grape is still rare, The Pedra Branca Saperavi 2018 is a limited release with only 31 dozen made.
It’s a rich taste of history and perfect for chilly months as well as a sumptuous summer treat. I hope you enjoy it.
If you’re looking for a fun new way to connect with your team during lockdowns we’ve devised the perfect alternative to taking them to the pub. Host a Virtual Wine Tasting Masterclass and you can raise a glass with your coworkers across the country.
Our one-hour session with acclaimed winemaker Matt Wenk will turn your team into wine connoisseurs. We’ll send each of your team members three exclusive Smidge Wines and create a tasting session based on your preferences and budget.
Our Virtual Masterclasses work well on Thursday or Friday nights, or weekend afternoons and are subject to availability and a minimum of six participants.
How it works:
Book your corporate Winetasting Masterclass by emailing us at email@example.com
Smidge Wines is honoured to receive a total of 11 reviews with scores over 90 for our wines in the esteemed James Halliday Australian Wine Companion for 2021.
It was one of the best years we’ve had for the revered wine guide with a total of eight gold reviews, one silver and two bronze. The reviews also confirm our status as an acclaimed 5 Red Star Winery for the fifth year in a row.
We were especially over the moon to have two of our top-of-the-range wines - the Magic Dirt Greenock Barossa Valley Shiraz and the Magic Dirt Menglers Hill Eden Valley Shiraz - recognised as The Best of the Best Shiraz for 2021. Both wines were awarded 97 out of 100 points.
Other gold medal wines that received 96 out of 100 included the S Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016, the Magic Dirt Strout Road McLaren Vale Shiraz, the Magic Dirt Willunga McLaren Vale Shiraz.
Our White Label series also performed exceptionally, with Adamo Barossa Valley Shiraz 2017 and The Ging McLaren Vale Shiraz 2016 both receiving 95 points as did the Pedra Branca McLaren Vale Saperavi 2018.
La Grenouille McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 received a Silver with 94 points. The Pedra Branca McLaren Vale Grenache 2018 received bronze with 92 points and the Houdini McLaren Vale Shiraz received 90 points.
Full list of reviews below:
Magic Dirt Greenock Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016
From a block of red-brown clay loam with small pieces of ironstone and quartz. It is a wine of extreme length - rich with black and blue fruits - yet it achieves this without any sign of effort. Finesse on a high level. 97/100
Preorder by email.
Magic Dirt Menglers Hill Eden Valley Shiraz 2016
The vines are grown by the very highly regarded Peter and Joel Mattschoss on a west-facing vineyard at 480m with shallow red clay/loam full of quartz and ironstone. Very elegant. Red fruits join in the fray along with ultrafine, but important, tannins, providing the length. 97/100.
Preorder by email.
S Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016
No fancy winemaking tricks; 16 days on skins, barriques and 2 hogsheads, all 2yo French oak, 24 months in the barrel. Yes, oak plays a role, but it’s the purity and freshness of the wine that makes it special. 96/100
Preorder by email.
Magic Dirt Willunga McLaren Vale Shiraz 2016
From Smidge’s estate vineyard, the soil deep red clay/loam with small fragments of quartz and ironstone. Standard vinification. The result, like its McLaren Vale sibling, is a wine that explores every corner of the mouth; ripe, slightly fluffy tannins the standard-bearers. 96/100
Preorder by email.
Magic Dirt Strout Road McLaren Vale Shiraz 2016
Deep red clay/loams mottled with small pieces of quartz and ironstone. The wine expands on the back palate and finish with ripe, persistent tannins. The shape of the wine in the mouth is wider than its Barossa siblings, but not as piercing. Dark chocolate makes a mark but not to extremes. 96/100
Preorder by email.
Grapes come from 91% Barossa Valley, 9% Eden Valley; 16 days on skins, 20 months in used French Barriques and hogsheads. I cannot understand 15.5% alcohol in the context of ‘17 but the spice and texture can’t be denied. 95/100
Multiple batches vinified separately, 14 days on skins, 20 months in French barriques and hogsheads (8% new) plus further time in bottle before release. Its unusual cured pipe tobacco bouquet gives way to lush black fruits, licorice and a dab of chocolate on the palate. 95/100
Pedra Branca is an experimental range made in limited quantities - here is a hoghead. Saperavi is a Russian variety with a red flesh, its intense colour giving the grape its name. In Russian, saperavi means ‘dyer’. It’s juicy and luscious and gives no sense of elevated alcohol. 95/100
No holds barred in either fruit or tannins, both full force. Its real value will be understood in 10+ years. 94/100
Known as the “noble grape”, the Tempranillo is a fruit of Spanish origin and one of several exciting alternative varietals that help make our range so unique at Smidge Wines.
The Spanish call it Temprana, meaning “early”, because it ripens on the vine faster than other red fruit.
It’s the most common grape used to make, Rioja, and there are an estimated 500-plus clones of Tempranillo fruit across Spain and Portugal, which is why Spaniards believe it to be noble.
For years I’ve been keen to make a Tempranillo because my grandmother was Spanish, and I’m very proud of my heritage.
This Tempranillo fruit was taken from a small vineyard in the Adelaide Hills in 2016, a year that enjoyed perfect growing conditions. I tasted the grape on the vine, and it was fantastic. I knew it would be perfect for our premium Pedra Branca range.
Fortunately, my instinct proved to be reliable as the Pedra Branca Tempranillo received 96 points from 100 in the James Halliday Wine Companion.
In Europe, Tempranillo is often blended with Grenache and Carignan because of its relatively neutral profile and exhibits flavours of strawberries and plum. Some winemakers like to age it oak because it will soak in the flavour of the barrique.
With its heritage on the Iberian Peninsula and, possibly, first grown by the occupying Phoenicians, it thrives in heat and drought – perfect for the harsh conditions that Australia often experiences.
The fruit ripens quickly, so it’s usually ready to pick before the searing heat of January arrives. That’s a key reason why it has been gaining in popularity with growers for the past 20 years and can now be found in the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and Margaret River.
The vines for our Pedra Branca Tempranillo are 14 years old and trellised on a north-easterly slope of the red loam in Verdun, a hamlet in the central Adelaide Hills.
The fruit for this wine as handpicked and de-stemmed. After 16 days on the skins, we combined the free-run and pressings.
I matured it for ten months in tight-grained French barriques, and it went through malolactic fermentation with no additions. After being cleanly racked and blended, the Tempranillo was bottled unfiltered and left for another year.
This process ensured we maintained the Spanish tradition of producing a deep red wine with complex aromas. Indeed, our Tempranillo has a rich, red core with a magenta rim. The nose is complex with aromas of raspberries, plums, fresh charcuterie, spice and subtle herbs.
I have to confess that my palate explodes with vibrant red fruits and its fresh, mouth-watering acidity followed up with subtle charcuterie, cedary spice and fine tannins.
If you’re keen to pair our Tempranillo with food, then I recommend traditional Spanish fare, including paella and a range of tapas, including spicy meats and goat cheese.
The Pedra Branca Tempranillo is a rare opportunity to experience the combination of Spanish history and local winemaking. At Smidge, we’ve kept our release to 75 dozen, and there are just a few cases left.
And unfortunately, the vines have been pulled out now, so there’s only a limited opportunity now to enjoy this unique Australian Tempranillo.
It’s ready to drink now, or you can store it in a good cellar for another ten years.
It’s always a privilege to create a wine that is true to its traditions in both taste and aroma.
With the 2017 Uno Momento Montepulciano, we’ve captured the essence of a classical fruit from the Abruzzo region of central-eastern Italy, where the Apennine Mountains meet the Adriatic Sea and stretch for more than 1,200km along the Italian coastline.
It’s beautiful, unique country and ideal for growing fruit that produces wonderful medium-weight wines for which Italy has become famous.
The closest countryside we have in Australia is McLaren Vale, which is where the fruit for our Montepulciano is grown.
We’ve called this Montepulciano “Uno Momento” – and there’s a story behind that.
We’d been in business at Smidge Wines for a number of years, producing an increasingly popular range of predominantly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Never satisfied, I thought we needed another red wine in the portfolio.
One local grower had grafted a small block to Montepulciano adjacent to a block of Shiraz that I already sourced fruit from. During the vintage of 2017, the weather was cooler, and I knew this to be very much aligned to the conditions for the grape traditionally grown at the foot of the Apennines.
One day halfway through vintage, I was out with the grower looking at the Shiraz, when I asked whether we could taste the Montepulciano. Upon tasting the fruit, I pronouned "this fruit is amazing...there is a lucky winery getting this" to which the grower replied that he hadn't sold a berry! The explosion of flavour was incredible, and suddenly the "light bulb" went off and I thought “wait a minute” – or as they say in Italy, “uno momento”.
I bought the entire crop on the spot.
Two weeks later, the fruit was handpicked and the bunches de-stemmed to ensure we could retain as many whole berries as possible. It was 24 days on skins with wild fermentation and no additions. Matured in two-year-old French barriques for ten months, it spent another 18 months in bottle before release 14 months ago.
Instinct served me well as the wine has received 95 points out of 100 from the Halliday Wine Companion.
Typical of many Italian varietal red wines, it is of medium weight, with good natural acidity and food friendly structure.
When you taste it, you should leave behind any expectation of a traditional Shiraz or Pinot Noir and instead enjoy an Italian experience conjured from the McLaren Vale’s red-brown over limestone soils that are very similar to those in the Apennines.
The wine is deep red with a striking perfume. You’ll experience lovely red and purple fruits with subtle savoury notes, fine tannins and fresh acidity.
This 2017 Uno Momento Montepulciano, available under the Smidge White Label, is based on the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a wine that one can trace its wine heritage back to 1AD.
Growing this fruit has become popular in McLaren Vale because the fruit typically ripens later and suits the Mediterranean warmth while retaining natural acidity and fine structure.
A total of 150 dozen of the Uno Momento has been made, and it has proven very popular. Only a few cases are left.
While many Australians continue to love richer wines such as Shiraz, tastes are changing and often the preference is for medium-bodied, yet flavoursome food friendly wines. Our Montepulciano meets this need perfectly, and customers rarely leave our cellar door without a couple of bottles under their arms.
It’s ready to drink now, or you can cellar it for a decade. If you like to pair your wine with food, I’d recommend anti-pasta, ossobuco or lamb shanks.
Like many winemakers, I’m captivated by the history of wine almost as much as the taste, which is why I’m excited about our Houdini Grenache Carignan.
Both the Grenache and Carignan fruits have a rich story, some of it lost in the mists of times.
The Phoenicians are said to have grown Carignan fruit as early as 9BC in territory that is now modern Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel. More contemporary evidence suggests it originated in Spain, where it’s called Carinena.
The Grenache has Spanish roots, too. Also known as Garnacha Tinta, the grape is said to hail from the province of Aragon in north-eastern Spain.
Its oldest plantings these days however are not in Europe but South Australia and date back to the 1840s. They came from the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, which featured James Busby’s collection of vines transported in the 1830s from Spain and France.
Both the French and Spanish lost their Grenache vines some 60 years later in a devastating outbreak of phylloxera.
Today, the grape can be found throughout Europe once more. In France, it’s grown predominantly in the Cote du Rhone, and you’ll find it in Spain’s Catalunya, Navarra and Rioja regions. The Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily, as well as Umbria, are also popular growing areas.
Locally, Grenache features in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, where it thrives in dry conditions that are warm-to-hot. Locally, it’s a familiar blend for Shiraz and Tawny and Vintage ports.
Grenache has spicy, peppery, berry fruit characters and is often described as “warm climate Pinot Noir”, but it’s a fickle variety that doesn’t guarantee large yields.
The grape is relatively low in colour, flavour compounds and levels of tannin, all of which diminish further as the yield becomes larger. Conversely, if the yield is small, the sugar and phenolic compound accumulation can become erratic and out of balance.
Two clonal groups of the grape dominate in Australia – the dark-skinned and pink-skinned Grenache.
The pink produces an aromatic wine but with limited structure and flavour, whereas the dark skin produces wines of depth, complexity and structure.
At Smidge, we’ve made Grenache in small quantities. It began as a trial but in 2017, a cool vintage, we made our first commercial volume. The conditions through that ripening season delivered fruit with subtle flavours that translated into a wine with a lovely perfume, red fruits, spice and subtle savoury notes.
Grenache makes up 72% of our Smidge 2017 Houdini blend with Carignan is the remaining 28%.
Each fruit was picked, fermented with wild yeasts and matured separately. The Grenache matured in older French puncheons (500L) and the Carignan sat in older French barriques (225L) or barrels for 12 months before blending and bottling.
Initially, I wanted to bottle a straight Grenache with its softer red fruits and peppery spice but instead had to commit it all to blend with the more dense Carignan – and that’s proven to be a great decision.
The result is a Houdini with an aroma of red fruits, spice, pepper, plums. On the palate, it leaves a sensation of juicy red fruits, savoury notes, and a fine, long structure.
The Houdini McLaren Vale Grenache Carignan was bottled some 12 months ago and will last another seven years, depending on the quality of your wine storage.
It can be drunk on its own or with a range of foods and charcuterie. I love it with lamb shanks, tomato-based pasta, and cheeses.
Wine writer Winsor Dobbin was a little more poetic in his review, saying that once you take a sip, you should close your eyes and dream of being in a beautiful village in the southern Rhone.
It doesn’t get better than that!
Not all superheroes wear capes. The coronavirus lockdown gave us a renewed respect and admiration for our healthcare, teachers and frontline workers who kept our communities running while the rest of us stayed home.
Suddenly our doctors, nurses, teachers and even supermarket staff were our first defence, and at Smidge, we wanted to do something to highlight their heroism.
Over the past four weeks, our Facebook followers nominated people whose efforts they admired during the pandemic. Each week, we chose a worthy recipient and sent them a two-pack of Smidge Wines to say thank you and pay it forward. We got such a kick out of it - it was a simple thing for us to do but we loved sending off those packs and hope all our recipients have enjoyed their wine.
Our worthy local super heroes were:
Helen M, a nurse from Norwood Day Surgery
Cherie P, a doctor at Victor Medical Centre
Liz T, an ELC teacher
Frank G, a nurse practitioner
We were overwhelmed by the number of nominations we received, and it quite brightened our isolation to read through such inspirational examples. We’d like to thank everyone who recommended someone.