Wine Assist Anniversary

Friday, July 2, 2021

Twenty years ago yesterday, my wife Vicki and I founded, Wine Assist Pty Ltd, with the aim of assisting wineries with a wide range of services (other than winemaking). Given that eighty percent of new ventures fail within two years, we are pretty chuffed at achieving this milestone.

During this time we have been involved in a wide variety of activities from winery reviews and valuations, through assisting (over 12 months) in the re-commissioning of the Wickham Hill 20,000 tonne winery in Griffith, to assisting small wineries to export over 800 containers of wine (mainly to Asia and more specifically to China). Along the way we launched our own wine label, Fifth Element, before fortuitously seeing the GFC coming so that we wound it down just as the GFC hit.

The whole concept of Wine Assist came about from a discussion with my dear friend, Jim Irvine, whom I had met in early December 1999 when I became the General Manager of Yaldara Wines (when Simeon Wines bought the winery from Hermann Thumm). Jim was the consultant winemaker to Chateau Yaldara and very quickly we established a rapport as we sorted out the bulk wine stocks and the significant array of labels that Yaldara had under the previous owners.

Over the next eighteen months (until Simeon Wines sold Yaldara wines to McGuigan for corporate reasons), we streamlined the existing portfolio, created and launched new wines and brands, including the Barossa’s first varietal Petit Verdot.

I learned a massive amount from Jim and came to respect him not only for his encyclopaedic wine knowledge but for his charm as an exceptional human being. Yaldara was sold when we were eighteen months into a five-year plan to rebuild and rejuvenate the company. It was Jim who first suggested that rather than looking for another job, I consider starting my own business consulting to wineries to help them improve their performance. Thus Wine Assist was formed on July 1st, 2001.

For those who may not know Jim, in a career that spanned sixty-six years, he became known as, “Mr Merlot”, for having lifted Australian Merlot from a mere blending “filler”, to becoming recognised on the world stage, due to his winning “World’s Best Merlot Maker” in 1992 and 1996 – which included outgunning the world famous Bordeaux – Chateau Petrus. He is also a long standing “Baron of the Barossa” and used to own Irvine Wines until he retired in 2014.

So it was with great delight that I had planned that yesterday I was going to host lunch with Jim and three great wine mates of mine to celebrate Wine Assist’s 20th Anniversary. Alas, Covid-19 restrictions meant that it had to be deferred to later this year. Apart from enjoying some of Jim’s 1996 Irvine Grand Merlot and our Fifth Element 2004 Padthaway Riesling, we were also going to enjoy a bottle of 2018 Min Zeven Bruut & Bruizend, a smashing sparkling wine made at seven metres below sea level by a great lady friend of mine in the Netherlands, out of five hybrid grape varieties. In addition to the line-up there was to be a bottle of the 2015 Giribaldi Cento Uve (an Italian wine made from 132 different grape varieties) and we were going to finish with a bottle of 1975 Chateau Coutet Barsac, just to prove that old age can be a sweet thing. We always try to do things just a little differently.

Thank you Jim for being my inspiration, mentor and even more importantly, my dear friend. Also, a big thank you to all the people and companies who engaged with Wine Assist along the way, and to all of you who read my rantings each week. Cheers!

This Week's Wine Review:

This week it is actually all about a winery rather than a wine that I will be reviewing.

On a recent trip up to the Riverland we stopped in and visited Bruce and Val Bassham at BASSHAM WINES, located just outside of Barmera. These guys are amazing! They produce 21 different wines of which only the Shiraz and Chardonnay are mainstream, the rest are all emerging varieties – other than the one fruit liqueur wine they make from their blackcurrants.

Standing out in the glorious winter sunshine morning and seeing the line-up of 21 wines really makes it sink in what an amazingly vinously great country we live in, with no suffocating rules, and what a dynamic duo these guys are.

Starting with the whites:

2019 BASSHAM ARINTO – A native Portuguese variety that is crisp, bright and tight with a lovely zesty finish. A brilliant wine for seafood.

2017 BASSHAM FIANO – This Italian variety is really kicking-off here and this is an excellent example. Fabulous citrus flavours with a tight, crisp finish – Oh, so yummy!

2019 BASSHAM VERDEJO – This Spanish variety that shines in the region of Rueda, is beginning to feel right at home in the Riverland – A gorgeous wine.

2019 BASSHAM FERNAO PIRES – The very first vintage (in the southern hemisphere) of this exciting Portuguese variety that is used in ‘Vino Verde’ and pairs beautifully with seafood and entrees.

2014 BASSHAM PETIT MANSENG (France) – What a difference some age makes, this is a super slick, uber tasty and divine wine.

2017 BASSHAM VERMENTINO (Italy) – Truly varietal and oh, so yummy!

There is also a Chardonnay and a Moscato in the range of white wines.

Now turning to the reds – OMG! There are some cracking wines here:

2020 BASSHAM GRACIANO (Spain) – Feisty and raring to go, a great contemporary style.

2016 & 2017 BASSHAM DURIF (France) – What a pair of sensational wines with the 2017 just a smidge superberer than its older brother – Both world-class Durif!!!

2020 BASSHAM MENCIA (Spain) – One of the very best Aussie Mencia I have tried! With fragrant red berries, lashings of bright flavours and superbly balanced – A class act!!

2018 BASSHAM ORGANIC LAGREIN (Italy) – Superb, rich bouquet and masses of rich, unctuous flavours – Top Notch!!

2013 BASSHAM LAGREIN Wow! Eight-years-old, deep, inky, black/red, gorgeous aromas, oodles of divine, round, rich flavours, still tight on the finish. A brilliant food wine – world-class!

2019 BASSHAM TINTA BAROCCA (Portugal) – A lighter style with elegant, oozing, great flavours – Classy!

2019 BASSHAM PRIETO PICUDO (Spain) – First release in Australia. A medium-bodied wine with floral and red berry aromas. A big, round, tight palate with a grippy finish. A great food wine.

2019 BASSHAM SAPERAVI (Georgia) – This wine has massive depth of colour, delightful aromas with a hint of roast beetroot and an ever so rich, tight, divinely flavoured palate. Brilliant!

They also have a Rosé, Shiraz, Nero d’Avola and an Organic Montepulciano.

The tasting was to some extent a sensory overload and it became a struggle to find enough descriptors to lavish on these outstanding wines.

So if you want to check out the future of Australian wine in these days of global warming go to the link below and have a look at their impressive range of top quality wines.

Winery Link:

Cheers and remember to #chooseaustralianwine and where possible drink #emergingvarieties