The House of Menzies is a unique new wine merchant sited in splendid surroundings in the glorious countryside of Perth, Scotland, near the town of Aberfeldy. Part of a substantial set of farm buildings, the House of Menzies is the brainchild of Kate MacDairmid and her partner Mike. Kate is an Australian wine-loving dynamo from the McLaren Vale, who married Mike, a Scottish farmer. On one of their visits down-under they visited a bright, spacious and very welcoming winery visitor centre and mused over the possibilities of establishing something of a similar style back home in Scotland. The result is their architecturally stunning conversion of an ancient farm building into a lofty, ultra-modern interior featuring a restaurant and coffee shop, gallery and wine store.
The wine store carries a very carefully selected range of New World only wines. It started off as Australian only, based largely around wines from people and places Kate had grown up with, but the range has gradually expanded into California, South America, South Africa and New Zealand. Prices are pitched in the middle ground, most between £5 and £10, rising to the £30’s for some rare bottlings. Best of all, the tasting bar always has a handful of interesting things to sample with your welcoming hosts. I have no commercial connection with this business, but rather fell in love with the concept and its stylish execution deep in the heart of one of Scotland’s most beautiful Highland landscapes. This tasting was subtitled “Off the Beaten Track” and featured wines that “you might not buy…until you try them!”, largely from unusual grape varieties or unusual places.
Deakin Estate (Australia) Colombard 1999 – £5.50
Light green/gold. Gorgeous, powerful fresh and fruity gooseberry and melon nose. Palate is full of apricot and orange fruit, with tangy acidity and good body. Easy to drink and very stylish.
Glenguin (Australia) Hunter Valley Unwooded Semillon 1997 – £8.95
Nose of wax, butter, damp wool and lime. There is a nice weight on the palate with clean, quite crisp flavours of orange and sharp citrus, with just a hint of darker figgy fruit begining to form. Quite good length, but not entirely convincing. These wines are reckoned to age very well, so this concentrated example maybe needs time.
Lawson’s Dry Hills (New Zealand) Gewurztraminer 1999 – £8.95
Bright pale gold colour. Lovely fragrant lychee and gooseberry aromas with typical notes of ginger and cinammon. The palate is quite full and fruity, but it is dominated by a great core of grapefruit acidity. A very good expression of the grape.
Morgan (California) Malvasia Bianca 1997 – £10.85
Quite an acrid, powerful, herbal, dill-scented nose with nutty, slightly oxidised buttery aromas. Very pungent through to the palate with a toasted brioche butteriness and masses of weighty peach and apricot fruit. A big and impressive wine.
Chalone (California) Echelon Pinot Noir 1998 – £10.50
Pale to medium ruby colour, a little violet to rim. Charry, quite vegetal nose with a charcoal edge to red fruit. Quite firm tannins grip the palate, some tart raspberry fruit and lots of spice and oak. Lacks the mouthfeel of a really good pinot.
Santo Tomas (Mexico) Tempranillo 1998 – £6.25
From Baja California, this has a dark, glossy ruby colour. Big, sweet vanilla nose with deep berry scents and a sweet-edged, almost minty note. Chewy, sour fruit on the palate. Loads of cherry and dark bramble flavours, but also smoky, earthy undertones of tobacco and leather. Some tannins, lowish acidity, and very tasty.
Valdivieso (Chile) Caballo Loco No. 3 – £13.95
This non-vintage wine is a bit of a mystery as the winemaker refuses to divulge exactly what is in the blend, and alters the blend from batch to batch. Rumour has it that No. 3 is mostly Pinot Noir, with possibly Cabernet Franc and, believe it or not, Viognier. That’s not quite so strange as it seems, as Viognier is a component of many otherwise Syrah wines from Côte-Rôtie. This has a powerfully vanillin, custardy, creamy oak nose before ripe blackcurrant and softer strawberry fruit. There is a real creaminess about this and beneath a pillow of softly earthy aromas. On the palate big drying tannins dominate over dusty, spicy black fruits. Good balance. Very long too, and sweetly fruited into the finish. Quite low acidity again, so maybe one to drink quite young, but really very good.
D’Arenberg (Australia) The “Dead Arm” Shiraz 1997 – £18.99
Massively aromatic nose, redolent of kirsch, blueberries, vanilla, blackcurrant jam and then that typically Australian mint, mulberry and sloes. But all the time there is also a restraint that stops this being too flashy, with pepper and a herbal nuance. On the palate there is a terrific deepness like chocolate and spice, but rich fruit too that is blackcurranty, with some firm tannins, vanilla and charcoal. Very concentrated and muscular, and something suggests this one will age.
Katnook Estate (Australia) Botrytis Riesling 1997 – £7.99
Medium/deep gold. Thick and unctuous. Nose is layered with honeyed fig and quince, marmalade too. On the palate it is luscious, mouth-coating stuff with caramel and honey, notes of orange and apricot kernel. Almost oily, this is long and relentlessly sweet, with just enough acidity to sharpen and add interest. Very delicious.