Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009
$175.00; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 95++ points
Blackberries in dark Val du Rhona Chocolate; apple slices in same. Bright and vivacious the flash of Spanish eyes. Split stone. Australian summer dust. And as I probably say every year, not only do we know that through this Red Wine Trial, yes, you can make Barossa Shiraz in French oak, and yes, it still looks utterly Australian. The battle betwixt the oaks of France and Missouri is much more interesting to watch since vast improvements occurred in the cooperage and maturation of American oak: the standard spongiform/balsa/bourbon/coconut stuff is no longer all you get from the Quercus alba. But on the other hand, this French oak is gingery: fresh powdered ginger. The flavours are silky wicked: they got the red-bellied black snake sheen. So imagine a wine with the sinuous texture of a great Hermitage but a nose that’s really 100% Australian Shiraz. Sheep beneath the gums. Hot black tea from a pannier bubbling in the eucalypt flames. And that wicked blackberry syrup. Awwww. Thirty years?
Penfolds Grange 2002
Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2009
$130; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted JUN 2012; 94++ points
Here’s another one that reminds me of the blacksmith’s cottage in the early ‘sixties: the sooty chimney’s not quite extracting the dark fumes from that iron pot of blackberries stewing on the stove … Mary Penfold’s little cottage kitchen in The Grange would have smelt like this every year when the figs, or blackberries or mulberries were ready … there’s gunpowder, too, and polished black leather: the deaf birdscarer’s come in for a cuppa, no milk, ta Mrs Penfold thankyou … aniseed, poppy seed … boisterous rollicking tannins … green coffee beans going in the roaster … The wine has a savoury edge – as in the herb, savoury – that draws one’s blood to the back of the lips. It’s intensely appetizing wine rather than satisfying, its madly individualistic fruit getting supportive, harmonious oak. Then, once I’d sat back and thought properly about it, like swallowed a fair bit of it, I reckoned that it’s a brash thrash cut of a real old doo-wop style … it’s got red hair and I’ll bet there’s a bright red kilt in there somewhere.
Barons of Barossa Shiraz 2005
Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009
$75; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted MAR 2012; 94+ points
The real old rocks between the Dorrien flats and Michael and Annabelle Waugh’s home vineyards can produce flavours of the most confounding intensity and complexity. Cigar smoke, billiard tables, ancient books. Falling off your motorbike in the dust and stone. Panforte. Stables with harness. The smithy. The spirits of wild briary berries the like of which we have not yet discovered get into the vines here on certain nights, leaving you with a gastronomic Fellini movie. And I don’t mean scratch and sniff like that John Waterman movie. With this one, it scratches you. Then it laps you right up. Astonishing depths of fruitmince and suet are already in there when you get swallowed. Juniper and bay, and olive leaf. Dates, figs, prunes. Cloves. Nutmeg. Yo-ho-ho. Looks like an old pickled missionary over in the corner. What? Sir John Falstaff? Good Lord! Have you seen Trott?
Woodstock The Stocks McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004
Fox Creek McLaren Vale Reserve Shiraz 2008$70; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 1-2JUL12; 93+++ points
As it comes covered with show bling – four gold medals internationally, for starters – there’s little surprise to discover this wine is after the Wolf Blass/John Glaetzer style, with a good whack of American oak overshadowing the French, and that luxuriously velvety barrel-ferment feel and bouquet. It’s all blackberries and mulberries in the fruit division; cedary and cigar-boxy in the carpentry. The two are not yet properly entwined, but they’ll move closer. In the meantime, it really does take me back to the Lunch Club days in the Greenock Creek Tavern, where Wolfie poured Black Label trophy-winners like there was no tomorrow. We now know there was a tomorrow, but it must be over: it’s a long time since I saw a bottle of Black Label, anywhere. So this fills the gap. And it does it well at a much lower price. Very much wine of a style, it’s a really good example of what McLaren Vale can do while it’s not obsessing with Scarce bloody Erse. Unlike those old Blass wines, this has not suffered the indignity of having a lump of Portuguese bark jammed down its throat, so it will not taint as it ages. I’d give it another five years, then pour it from a Jimmy Watson jug, or something along those lines, and have it with pepper steak, bleu.
Giaconda Warner Vineyard Beechworth Shiraz 2006
Mount Langi Ghiran Grampians Cliff Edge Shiraz 2009
$30; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 22-25 JUN 12; 93++ points
Damn thing’s so vibrant and seductive the bottle was nearly done before I remembered to write some notes. It’s got that acrid lightning-strikes-the-blackberries edge: when the Lord smote the bushes it got hot enough to scare them into smelling like they’re cooked, and the flash has left that sparky whiff of ozone. Then I remember: it was grown, of course, in the year poor Victoria burnt to the ground. Astonishing, really. It’s a supple, intense, luxurious wallow of a red. It has a little lavender and mint wafting in and out of all that lightning drama. It’s too trim and willowy of frame to be Wagner, but you can feel them Valkyrie hoverin somewhere nearby. It’s much better the day after you first open it, so if you can’t wait, at least give it a thrashing of oxygen in a jug or decanter … I’d sploosh it into a jug, then pour it back into the bottle and let sit an hour or two with the cap off. A whole 24 hours would be better. Either way, it’s just really squishy lovely wine. Pork hocks come to mind; anything opulent and meaty. Succulent rack of lamb; tiny kid chops.
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2008
$95; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted JUN 2012; 93+++ points
Maybe I’m dreaming, but I thought the 07 had really fresh marine terroir aromas, like Bordeaux, I suppose. It was pretty, but I mumbled that it was a little out of character for St Henri’s soulful heritage, and blamed it on the component of Robe fruit in that blend. This wine has similar tweaks, in a much less obvious way. It’s like the intense, fresh smell of Mornington Peninsula Shiraz. Here, it adds to the glory. But there’s no Robe this year: this is from the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, and the Adelaide Hills, in that order. It’s 91% Shiraz, and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. Maybe it’s the Langhorne Creek fruit adding that ethereal estuarine air. The wine is smooth, but much more velvet than silk so far: it’s gonna live for a very long time. It has the aromatic patina of the blacksmith’s cottage kitchen with Christmas coming on: prunes and poached almonds and grilled bacon … currants ... fruit mince … fig and date and dumpling dough. The polished iron wood-fired stove. Holy hell. Bring it on, Granma! Pity they couldn’t release it at forty years of age … but like RIGHT NOW.
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2006
Penfolds Grange 2007$625; 14.5% alcohol; cork(!); 93++ points
This is a Grange. There’s no doubt about that. It has all the fractal chaos of any baby Grange. It has the tar and the boilerstoker’s apron; the fig and quince and syrupy black cherry liqueur; it has panforte and dates and over-ripe persimmon and tamarillo. It has black Iberian ham and the balsamico; it has the glowering warmth and the soul and the enveloping reassurance that dear Max likened to a mother. It has the faint swarfy whiff of Max’s father’s smithy, and if in this its infancy a wine could have a sound this one would ring like a forge, especially if it were under screwcap. It’ll live for decades if you’re lucky with the cork, and it will always be a properly luxurious delight. It is an exceptional wine. But it’s not a great vintage. Simple as that. Not even Penfolds can fix the weather.
Pieri Azzardo 2005
Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2007
Torzi Matthews Schist Rock Eden Valley Shiraz 2011 $18; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 5JUL 12; 1,000 cases made; 92+
Hard on the heels of Tim Smith’s mindblowing Mataro Grenache Shiraz, here’s the second Barossa 2011 red that shows what uncommonly bright humans of exceptional sensory nous can do in the worst vintage of recent history. For once in my life, I can confidently quote a press release without rewriting the damn thing. Dominic Torzi first explains the vines are in clay loam over schist at 380 metres at Mt McKenzie, in the Barossa Ranges. They hang on a single wire and they’re sixteen years old. “Family traditional biological farming methods with a diet of composts, native grasses & flora as ground cover, low water input and natural sprays for diseases,” he writes. For those unsure of how to describe a bad vintage, read on:
“2011 was certainly a roller coaster ride which was the coolest I have experienced during my efforts of producing wines and certainly taught me to be more vigilant in the approach. The vigilance shows in this wine which the Shiraz fruit was harvested over 3 weeks. In the garage the Shiraz fruit was gently destemmed including 30% whole bunch into open top milk vats and fermented warm with natural bearing yeasts birthed from the vineyard with soft pump overs, hand plunging and basket pressed to barrel to complete ferment. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. To taste expect heady floral aromatics with succulent spiced cherry compote and red currants. Again the aromatics flow onto the delicate medium weight palate with lovely purity persistence of ripe raspberries, white pepper, provincial herbs and fine grained tannins to hold it tightly wound.”
Like the Smith wine, this beauty seems to have taken some of the worst of the wettest vintage in history (I think that’s official now) and used it to become more French than Barossan. But you wouldn’t find a Frenchman doing this for $18.
d’Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2006
Penfolds Bin 28 South Australia Kalimna Shiraz 2009
$40; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points
Here’s the damned blemish in Penfolds’ otherwise supremely shiny marketing logic. This doesn’t come from the sublime Kalimna at all. It comes from Padthaway, Barossa, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale and Robe. Try and summarise those vintage conditions for a brief back label, there’s a dear. Which is the idea, of course. Pick from such a disparate rainbow of sources, and some of it MUST be groovy. Wrap it up in classic A. P. John chocolate-toasted American oak, and you have a dangerously addictive drug. Ants and aniseed, Żubrówka and Zebra in the dust: all points in between are ticked. This is Ernest Hemingway wine. He spills some in his typewriter every time a duck flies past. How would he describe it? “Good. Lookout! Duck!” Which is not to say the wine needs editing. You just need a mighty hulk like Hemingway to tip it into. It manages to be almost topline Wolf Blass slick, but with a little more of the brooding gamy savagery good South Australian Shiraz can proffer. It’s more reptile than gloop.
Green Point Yarra Valley Reserve Shiraz 2004
Campbells Bobbie Burns Rutherglen Shiraz 2006
Lake Breeze Langhorne Creek Section 54 Shiraz 2009$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 20 JUN 12; 91+ points
Larncrk Shiraz gets bashed around. It’s easy to grow and easy to make: the rich, deep alluvium of those estuarine plains manages to squeeze out consistent blackberry syrup in spite of the slackest greedy viticulture. This isn’t helped by the manner in which big guys like Treasury select and grade their fruit purchases from this district: as in other regions, growers think that if, say, Penfolds, is paying top dollars for syrupy gloop, then syrupy gloop is what they themselves should be making. They forget that the syrupy gloop the big buyers desire is destined to add warmth and soul to vast mega-blends of skinny, low-character stuff from elsewhere, and that if Penfolds, just for example, happened to be a small local producer and not a mega-blender, it’d be picking the fruit at much more modest ripeness to make better wines more accurately reflective of the best the district has to offer. Anyway, as I was saying, Larncrk Shiraz is often a fairly lackadaisical sort of a drink. Here’s a bold statement of the obverse: more love in the vineyard, more care in the barrel selection, and you can produce a cheery, cherry delight like this bright exemplar. It’s what winemaker Greg Follett calls “classic, full-flavoured Shiraz created using a combination of old vine fruit and careful winemaking”. His wine style has for years depended a lot on American oak, and while this one still shows some raw shaved American small oak flavours, it’s probably more French than stateside in the lumberjack division, which might be what he means by “careful”. It’s clean, juicy, cheery and mellow, a bit like a very modern, sophisticated Rhone delta Shiraz with another $50 on the spend number. Looks like it’ll be restaurants and cellar-door only, so you might have to take a drive. It’s posh afternoon nuts-and-cheese slurping, or, if served in big Burgundy glasses from a decanter, posher dinner wine at a happy price. Juicy lamb rack; lamb korma.
The Hedonist McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005
Bremerton Selkirk Langhorne Creek Shiraz 2007
Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2010
$35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted MAR 2012; 85+ points
The more delicate fruit jujubes and gels of Coonawarra are prominent here: all the musk and confectionery sugars, the lolly shop party favours, mixed perfectly with the lavender and paper flowers from the florist next door. So you get an old-fashioned “claret” in a way: a stylish, svelte young wine for suits and steaks at lunch; blazers and lamb at dinner. You know that tough blonde lady in the suit who runs one of the big banks? She’d drink this. Kevin Foley would miss it, but she’d get it. It’s what they call elegant, which I think means streamlined and slick, unobtrusive and linear. Unsurprising. Homogenised. Perfect drinking when promoting corporate parsimony with a dash of spunk. Safe.
J. Vidal-Fleury Cotes-du-Ventoux 2006