12/1/2023 — Worth the hunt: gems from Old Bridge Cellars

Offer available through Monday, 12/4/2023, or as inventory lasts.

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Hi everyone –

A big part of the Friday Offers is doing the work of digging through catalogs, walking the aisles of the wholesaler’s warehouses, and using our connections to unearth gems and rarities at great prices for you. This is the opposite of what a normal wine shop does: tasting wines continuously with the local distributors, bringing in a few bottles or a case, putting it on the shelf, and hoping you walk in and buy it.

You can see the difference here. What we’re doing is a complete 180 from the normal way of bringing wines to consumers, making sure you have access to gems that are just lingering in the warehouses of wholesalers and importers. And today’s offer goes beyond the normal. I’ll explain why.

How we found these wines: it’s all about who you know

One of the best in the business of wine is our friend Chris Rowe, who works for Old Bridge Cellars and represents incredible brands from around the globe. Chris and I first met almost 20 years ago, when I worked for the local distributor of his portfolio. He’s hands down one of the most organized, hardest working, and straightforward dudes I’ve ever met in the wine business.

Though Chris resides in Colorado, he has always subscribed to the Twin Cities Wine Education newsletter to keep a finger on the pulse of our local market and to keep up with what I’m doing.

Today’s offer is the result of months of work, starting in June. Chris said there’s opportunity in his California warehouse, with some random piles of wines that are fantastic but just not moving. He was also willing to lower the prices, knowing that our offers never hit Wineseacher and Google. Add to that: none of them were in Minnesota, so we wouldn’t be cutting into his own existing business.

He assembled a couple boxes of samples and shipped them out to us.

Over the course of a few weeks in July and August, we stepped through the wines and picked out some amazing finds. Inventory was secured in California, shipping dates were set, and lo and behold the wines arrived earlier this week.

What you have here is an opportunity at some of the best wines we’ve had this year. These are not available in the local distributor’s catalog (including the Penley Estate, which is a high-scoring back vintage that they had a bit left of), they were brought in special just for us.

First, some truth on Aussie wines (important)

I’ve closely followed the Australian wine scene for over 25 years. I remember when Rosemount was dominant and family owned (and so damn good). I remember when sudden consolidation meant that all five of the best selling brands were owned by the same corporation. I remember when Yellow Tail first hit the market (and those first vintages were the bargain of the century, made with juice that was supposed to go into far more expensive bottles but was sold for a song due to three over-producing vintages in a row).

And I saw the collapse.

Three things happened at the same time (the timeframe here is circa 2008-2015).

First, Australian wine became synonymous with critter labels and a race to the bottom on price.

Second, lower-producing vintages because of drought suddenly meant the really good stuff never left Australia … there just wasn’t enough of it.

Third, as consumers sought out lower alcohol and “balanced wines” (which is a slippery slope of a term), they remembered the big inky Shirazes of the mid 2000s and made the wrong assumption that all Aussie wine was like that. So they turned their back on the whole category and moved toward more Beaujolais and Pinot Noir.

Then the vicious cycle began.

Retailers saw that fine wine consumers were no longer looking for Australian wine, so they bought less of it. The restaurants followed suit. The wine press, now able to follow statistics on articles read online with incredible precision, saw reader interest in the category was down so the edict went out to focus on the shiny new objects of Natural Wines, Gamay, amphora, etc. to grab more readership.

The drop in sales led to a lack of buzz. The lack of buzz led to a drop in sales. Pretty soon the Australian wine category in America was a hollow shell of what it once was.

Turning the Aussie ship around

Importers like Old Bridge Cellars had their work cut out for them, but true to form they were up for the challenge. First, they started to change distributors around the country, moving from the big houses to the smaller, faster, more interesting little guys.

Then they diversified a bit and brought in some incredible French producers. This was key to get their foot in the door for meetings with the cool kid sommeliers and boutique retailers in the big markets (when top-notch Champagne and Bordeaux are offered, who wouldn’t say yes to a meeting?). Then, in a stroke of genius, they slowly and methodically started to steer the conversation while they pulled out some Australian gems during sales calls.

“Hey I’ve got one more bottle here if you want to try it. Have you ever had this wine? Do you know how small the winery is? How little of this is made? It’s been biodynamically farmed for thirty years? The winemaker used to be in charge of Penfold Grange? It’s far lower in alcohol than you may expect? Nobody in town has this by the glass. I have it right here, let’s try it.”

At the same time, the tide started to turn in the press …



Sip by sip they turned the ship around. It’s still a work in progress, but talk with any sommelier that is on top of things today and you’ll hear a bit about “The New Australia,” the embracing of small producers, and the incredible and sexy wines that are coming to America today.


Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir 2019, Tasmania

Tasmanian Pinot Noir is simply stunning, full stop. Some of the best in the world.

But we never see much of it in America, and especially in Minnesota. Why? Because they drink it all down there! While mainland Australia is basically too hot for Pinot Noir production (exception: Victoria), Tasmania is spot on perfect, with cool winds from Antartica blowing over the mountains, which causes a rain shadow in the small vine growing valleys. They ship it to Melbourne and Sydney, where isn’t consumed instantly at the best restaurants.

Map from Decanter Magazine. Number 6 is our wine here.

Jason’s Tasting note: Beautiful light color, a touch garnet, looks like Volnay. Aromas are beautiful and haunting, with all sorts of spice and fun wrapped around red raspberry. Really nifty aromas, at one moment earthy and on the next pass candied … super complex and delicious. Taste is bright and punchy, with verve and sass to it. Dancing, lively, and very well balanced. This is tasty, and worthy of attention. It’s like a Volnay on a sunny year, with skin ripeness but not overt sugar ripeness. Wowza.


d’Arenberg “The Bonsai Vine” GSM 2016

Our admiration of Chester Osborne and d’Arenberg Winery is well known. He’s one of the true characters of the wine world. He makes so many wines it makes my head spin, and within the mix is this gem, which has NEVER been offered in Minnesota.

Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvedre from some of the oldest vines in South Australia. The wine, like all d’Arenberg wines, is handmade and as natural as can be.

During Covid times, we were lucky enough to interview Chester Osborne and learn a bit more about his philosophies.

Jason’s tasting note: Grenache 47%, Shiraz 47%, Mourvedre 6%. This is decadent. Big, intact waves of black olive meets black raspberry. Super soulful, like listening to Marvin Gaye on vinyl. Vanilla and clove, not shy on oak but perfect balance. Winter weight aromas. Taste is medium to full bodied, enveloping, blanket-like. It settles on the palate with richness but not spice. Fascinating. 14.5% ABV. Incredibly good and yummy. I’m craving a pepper crusted beef tenderloin, like right f’n now.

91 points Vinous:


Kilikanoon “Killerman’s Run” Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Clare Valley (cool weather district)

Clare Valley is one of my favorite spots. Best known for their incredible dry Rieslings and edgy Shiraz, there are a few old pockets of Cabernet Sauvignon that produce some amazing wines.

From Robert Parker: “This is one of the most brilliantly run wineries in Australia, and the quality of the entire portfolio is impressive thanks to the enviable talents of winemaker Kevin Mitchell… also one of South Australia’s ‘good guys.‘”

From the importer’s website:

As the descendent of a long line of Clare Valley grape growers, founder Kevin Mitchell holds a passion for terroir, particularly that of the beautiful Clare, with its steep north-south ranges and austere slate escarpments. The Kilikanoon winemaking philosophy focuses on minimal intervention, letting the family’s mature vineyards shine. This means no fining, clarification or filtering; the wines settle themselves. Likewise, the intensity of flavor, achieved through low yields, will not be compromised. A steadfastness to these principles offers the Kilikanoon wines a robustness of flavor and texture that is present across the entire range, defining and setting them apart from their peers.

https://obcwines.com/wineries/kilikanoon/

91 Points Wine Spectator:

Delivers generous and appealing wild blackberry and black currant flavors, with accents of dark chocolate, a whiff of bourbon, and fresh herbal notes on the finish. This is appealing for its complexity and harmonious finish.

Jason’s tasting note: Color is still a touch primary and young. Looks medium to full bodied. First pass is BIG. Rich and textural, loads of soft pillow black fruits with a touch of black olive. Like falling into a blackberry comforter with someone sexy. Almost candied in the aromas, in all the best ways. Taste is super mouthfilling and textural. This is a fireplace wine. The tannins have already melted into the juice and its as smooth as silk … which I wasn’t expecting. Drinking great NOW. Super wine to have while relaxing in the winter.


Penley Estate “Phoenix” Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Coonawara

Coonawara is to Cabernet what Willamette is to Pinot Noir: this is the perfect home for a particular grape.

Coonawara is located kinda on its own in the middle of nowhere, a couple hours southeast of Adelaide. It’s an old lakebed with a high iron content, and when the lake dried up the iron oxidized leaving a red soil. What’s so cool about Coonawara is that you can be standing in it, on the edge of the district, and step literally three feet away and you’re suddenly out of it. It’s all about terroir.

Coonawarra, terra rossa soil profile. Photo from Coonawara.org

From the Old Bridge Cellars website:

Penley is an estate winery located in the heart of Australia’s greatest Cabernet wine region: Coonawarra. Established in 1988 by descendants of the pioneering Penfold and Tolley winemaking families, Coonawarra’s famed terra rossa soils were selected for their ability to produce terroir-driven wines of true regional character. The estate is now widely regarded as one of the region’s leading producers, led by Winemaker Kate Goodman (HWC 2024 Winemaker of the Year).

94 points Wine Enthusiast:

This excellent wine offers aromas of blueberry, currant, terra cotta, iodine, savory spices and an umami-like seaweed nuance. There’s lovely depth of flavor, tannin structure and regional expression on the palate. Drink through 2040.

Jason’s tasting note: Very young and primary color — mid purples and reds. Aromas is spot on Coonawara: irons and red fruits and cured meats. A very distinct aroma in a good way. The mouthfeel is seamless, with no dip whatsoever in the flavor profile. This is outstanding.  Second taste even better … taste buds are finding their groove to the wine … and this is showing what is truly great about the region and producer. Classic Coonawara and I’m quickly reminded of how many great Cabernets I’ve had from there.

Final thoughts

This is a rare opportunity at some top-notch, big time, perfect-for-winter wines at great prices. All are showing on point right now, but will hold up and get better in the coming years.

Taste what most consumers are missing out on!

SUPER LIMITED INVENTORY! What we got is what we got and we can’t easily get any more.

Jason Kallsen
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education


Offer and special pricing are available through Monday, or as inventory lasts

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