Australian red wines have fallen out of favour somewhat in New Zealand over the last 15 years, now that New Zealand red wines are so increasingly good. Thus the idea of presenting a couple of Australian-themed tastings, the first a retrospective tasting of Australian red wines from 1996, a coolish aromatic year in Australia, the second covering current on-the-shelf wines and related to Part I if possible, seemed well worthwhile. The two tastings were hosted by Regional Wines & Spirits, Wellington, in late March and early April, 2017. Both tastings sold out.
SCOPE OF THE TASTINGS – THE WINES IN THE TWO PARTS:
| LIBRARY TASTING PART I: |
1996 d'Arenberg Shiraz Dead-Arm, McLaren Vale, South Australia
1996 Bannockburn Shiraz, Geelong, Victoria
1996 Barossa Valley Estates E&E Shiraz Black Pepper, Barossa Valley, South Australia
1996 Jim Barry Shiraz McCrae Wood,
Clare Valley, South Australia
1996 Burge Shiraz Meshach, Barossa Valley, South Australia
1996 Cape Mentelle Shiraz, Margaret River, West Australia
1995 Coriole Shiraz Lloyd Reserve, McLaren Vale, South Australia
1996 Henschke Shiraz Mount Edelstone,
Eden Valley, South Australia
1996 McWilliams Shiraz Mount Pleasant Maurice O'Shea, Hunter Valley, NSW
1997 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi, Grampians, Victoria
1996 Seppelt Shiraz Mount Ida, Heathcote, Victoria
1996 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, Northern Rhone Valley
CURRENT WINES PART II:
2014 Burge Shiraz Filsell, Barossa Valley, South Australia
2013 Cape Mentelle Shiraz, Margaret River, West Australia
2013 Domaine Chandon Shiraz, Yarra Valley, Victoria
2011 Coriole Shiraz Lloyd Reserve, McLaren Vale, South Australia
2014 John Duval Shiraz Entity, Barossa Valley ± Eden V., South Australia
2012 Elderton Shiraz Command, Barossa Valley, South Australia
2012 Penfolds Shiraz Grange, Barossa Valley, South Australia
2013 Seppelt Shiraz St Peters, Grampians, Victoria
2014 Two Hands Shiraz Gnarly Dudes, Barossa Valley, South Australia
2015 Wirra Wirra Shiraz Catapult, McLaren Vale, South Australia
2012 Wirra Wirra Shiraz RSW, McLaren Vale, South Australia
2014 Elephant Hill Syrah Reserve, Hawkes Bay
Invitation to Part I:
The mid 1990s ... and for red wine in Wellington, all anybody wanted was Australian. A few wanted French, fewer Spanish, and when it came to New Zealand reds ... that was still the time when the Air New Zealand judging results created acute interest in anything that really looked exciting amongst New Zealand reds – but few did, and not much sold.
How different the world is now: New Zealand reds outsell all others. But before we forget totally, let's recollect that 1996 was a particularly attractive year climatically in nearly all the Australian red wine districts. It was one of the cooler years, making wines of much greater varietal interest to New Zealanders. So let's look at a dozen 1996s (mainly) at their 20-years-on point. They should be at full flowering.
Our wine list is shiraz only (being Australia's most famous red grape), and covers many of the noteworthy Australian names of the era. However greater emphasis has been placed on showing the geographic range, from West Australia right across to the Hunter Valley, via the Clare Valley, Eden Valley, Barossa Valley, and McLaren Vale in South Australia, the Grampians and Geelong in Victoria, and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Just to make the varietal part a little bit more focussed, there will be a classic French syrah from the Northern Rhone Valley, 1996 Jaboulet's Hermitage La Chapelle. All blind, naturally.
No good, you say, no Penfolds ... patience please: we will have an evening dedicated to Penfolds later in the year, some 1996, a number older, and that tasting will include the rare-as-hen's-teeth 1996 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Kalimna Block 42. It is worth more than Grange. So look forward to that, and in the meantime come and enjoy these nicely-mature Australian shirazes.
Many consider Henschke's Mount Edelstone and Langi Ghiran's Langi shirazes the subtlest and most interesting of all the great Aussie shirazes, being much less oaky than the famous ones. We have both of them.
One detail: these 1996s are not any old Australian reds ... they were selected as the best of the crop then available in New Zealand, that is, both a good year, and the wines not too oaky or too euc'y, at a point when I had already been assessing and cellaring Australian wine for 30 years.
Presentation and Results:
In my tastings, which are presented as blind tastings for participants, I attach particular importance to pre-tasting, and sequencing the wines to tell a story. Apart from the first wine (which is intended to be a scene-setter representing the field that day, or introducing the winestyle) for this tasting I arranged the wines to reflect my long-standing interest in syrah the wine-style. Therefore they were sequenced approximately from the heaviest, most over-ripe and most oaky (i.e. traditional Australian shiraz interpretations) through to wines more closely reflecting the florality and pinot noir-like (but stronger and more aromatic) charm which the wine-style syrah can at best display, in some of the more temperate parts of Australia.
In any group of 21 people tasting wines such as these, some tasters prefer the more traditional styles, some the lighter more modern ones. In the introduction, no particular value was assigned to one wine-style over the other. Additionally, tasters were asked to imagine each wine with food including savoury casseroles, so that if there were any wine showing some brett (a complexity factor which for naive or open-minded tasters makes the wine so much better with savoury food), they would be appraised in an everyday way.
The results were interesting, to a person who has been cellaring Australian wine (often in case lots – 12) since the 1964 vintage. The wines opened very well, creating some surprise I suspect as to their mellowness and all-round appeal. Many tasters are (sadly) only familiar with the raw young current vintages, and often of the more affordable wines. The gridded analysis I put up on the whiteboard (as to how tasters rate the wines) is taken while the wines are still totally blind. This provides a visible counter to the presenter's views. It also helps stimulate interaction and discussion – which is so much a key part of a constructive wine tasting, as opposed to a didactic one. The analysis results are blended into the tasting review for each wine, below.
Four wines in this 1996-based Library Tasting of Australian reds particularly stood out for their elegance and international quality. From the left: 1997 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi, 18.5 +, syrah-like; 1996 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Shiraz Maurice O'Shea, 18.5 +, almost reminiscent of a rich burgundy; 1996 Henschke Shiraz Mount Edelstone, 18.5, fragrant with more oak; and 1995 Coriole Shiraz Lloyd Reserve, 18, dense and deep.
Detail varies even between Bordeaux and Burgundy, let alone other countries. Robinson (2006) concludes:
barrique: 225 litres
hogshead: 300 litres
puncheon: 450 – 500 litres
Halliday, James, 1985: The Australian Wine Compendium. Angus & Robertson, 576 p.
Kelly, Geoff, 2011: A Syrah Ripening Curve in New Zealand wine terms. The World of Fine Wine 34: 130-137
Lake, Max, 1966: Classic Wines of Australia. Jacaranda Press. 134 p.
Robinson, Jancis & Julia Harding, 2006: The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford University Press, 815 p.
Witt, Merrill, 2012: BVE E & E Black Pepper Shiraz: A Great Name for an Outstanding Shiraz
www.winecompanion.com.au = James Halliday and increasingly Ben Edwards (subscription needed)
www.jancisrobinson.com = Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding mainly (subscription needed)
www.robertparker.com = Robert Parker alone for this tasting (subscription needed)
www.winespectator.com = Harvey Steiman for the one used (subscription needed)
www.langtons.com.au/classification = Schedule of the top Australian wines, in 3 tiers
THE WINES REVIEWED, Part I:
# Value: The price indications for each wine below are current values, from wine-searcher, not the original purchase price.
# Sources: I do not have a large library of Australian wine-books, mainly because their authors are so tiresomely over-praising of the local wines. Tasting notes below (where available) are based on my web staple sources, as above, plus a quick web search. For the vintage ratings below, bear in mind till very recently, Australians tended to mark up the hot years, eg 1998, and mark down the temperate ones such as 1996. To the New Zealand palate (if influenced by the classical wines of France), the other way round is more appealing:
Colour is ruby more than garnet, above midway in depth. Bouquet is totally syrah-like, nearly cassis, great berry still quite dark, not over-oaked, no alcohol fume, and clearly floral in the archetypal carnations / dianthus style (for syrah). Its purity is stunning. Palate follows perfectly, only the faintest flowering mint aromatics, which are no more than the garrigue note in some Northern (and moreso, Southern) Rhone wines, the berry and fruit shy at first. At the tasting, the Edelstone seemed fruitier, but the next day this less showy wine had overtaken it, with berry of almost cassis-like intensity. This is total syrah, more Cote Rotie than Hermitage, wonderful length and balance, nearly some black pepper, more subtle even than the Maurice O'Shea, a little less mint, good with food. Still youthful, cellar 5 – 15 years. This wine epitomises the new face of Australian 'shiraz'. Regrettably I could not match the 1996 vintage theme of the tasting, but for the Grampians Halliday rates the 1997 vintage ahead of even 1996. Two tasters rated this their top wine, no second places, no leasts, and nobody thought it French. GK 03/17
Colour ruby and garnet, nicely mature, the third-lightest wine. One of the most enchanting books ever written about Australian wine is Max Lake's Classic Wines of Australia, 1966. He simply raved about wines made by the late Maurice O'Shea, from the late '20s to the early '50s, at Mount Pleasant in the Lower Hunter Valley. I have long been envious of those Australians who have tasted these wines, and wondered a good deal if this was just an early flowering of the excessive pride Australians show in their red wines. I have however been inclined to think in fact it was true, for two reasons. Firstly, 45 years ago I was lucky enough to coincide with a batch of 'distressed' early '60s McWilliams wines from the Hunter Valley, which included 1959 McWilliams P and OP Hermitage, a wine of pinot noir-like beauty. Secondly, Max Lake then, like James Halliday nowadays, reflected a much wider palate schooling than most Australian wine writers display. So for this wine, made from grapes either tended by, or planted by Maurice O'Shea in the 1920s, one sniff, one taste, and I felt: here is a real shadow of that early enthusiasm. The wine is wonderfully floral and fragrant, like an aromatic Cote de Nuits pinot noir, and this leads into a soft, aromatic, only faintly minty palate of great subtlety and charm, not over-ripe, not over-oaked, not overly alcoholic, in fact highly suggestive of some kind of Antipodean Cote Rotie. It is just a little tannic, compared with the Langi, but also fractionally richer. It will be wonderful with food. In this company however it is almost a modest wine, so I was quite alone in rating it highly. For the group, no first or second places, no least place, and nobody thought it French. Fully mature now, but no hurry at all. GK 03/17
Garnet and ruby, the second-lightest wine. This wine illustrates perfectly the lightly minty floral note which I equate with the Australian flowering mint shrub Prostanthera (as a descriptor), a character which synergises with the diagnostic floral carnation character of syrah (think Prof Saintsbury and his gillyflowers) to at times become quite strong, as in the McCrae Wood. But even then it is infinitely more attractive and softer than euc'y characters with their coarse menthol notes. Below the florals is berry of near-cassis quality, fattened with some aromatic bottled black doris dark plum fruit. Oak is fractionally more noticeable than the Langi, both accentuating the mint and making the palate more aromatic. The saturation of fruit is gorgeous, yet this is not a big or heavy wine. Mt Edelstone is often the most subtle expression of shiraz from the Henschke stable: so this wine too pretty well qualifies as syrah. The colour is a good deal more advanced than the Langi or the O'Shea, but it still has some time ahead of it. This was one of the three most popular wines on the night, five rating it their top wine, three their second favourite, no least places, and five thought it French (a little surprisingly, given the mint). GK 03/17
Ruby, the most youthful in the set, velvet, the deepest wine. Bouquet is rich, deep, dark and mysterious in a positive way, just a hint of aniseed. The overriding character is slightly aromatic dark bottled plums, with reasonably subtle oak relative to the apparent weight of the wine. Alcohol is not overt. Flavours don't follow perfectly, the wine being both big and still very tannic, but the richness nearly carries it. The oak accentuates a slight minty quality, but despite being tannic, the wine is not unduly oaky. Style-wise this wine lives up to the claims McLaren Vale likes to make, that it is not as hot as the Barossa Valley, but this is still a big powerful wine. The cropping rate must be very low. I imagine in another 10 years this will score 18.5, once some of the tannins condense, and crust in bottle. It will cellar for years beyond that. This is a far cry from the average McLaren Vale big red. Three people rated it their top wine, no second places, no least, and two thought it French. GK 03/17
Ruby and garnet, just below midway in depth. In bouquet this wine does indeed typify the flowering mint (Prostanthera) character I describe above, which absolutely characterises this vineyard. The better (i.e. cooler) years of this label have been exactly like this since inception in 1992. It is a regional character, not brett as Goode suggests (above). Being eucalypt-derived, in hotter years it can grade into coarser euc'y / menthol characters, much less attractive. Entangled in the mint are syrah-like florals of the carnation / dianthus type, on nearly cassisy berryfruit and subtle oak. This wine bears the same relation to Barry's Armagh as Edelstone does to Hill of Grace: namely a much more fragrant interpretation of shiraz inclining in the better years to syrah / a European wine style. The flowering mint at this level does not appeal to everybody, however. The wine is uncommonly like the Edelstone, in fact, just fractionally lighter in weight and more floral / minty. This bottle is beautifully mature, supple fruit a delight, but it will hold for several years. No first places but four second, and two least. Nobody thought it French. GK 03/17
Ruby and garnet, just above midway in depth. Bouquet is a little different from the other wines, scarcely any aromatics, but a slightly clouded near-carnations-like floral lift closest to the Langi in style, cassisy berry, with darkly plummy fruit below reminding of the Lloyd Reserve. Palate however is totally different from the Lloyd, much less dense, more the weight of the O'Shea, but drier, and finishing a little short, with highish tannins both grape and oak. On reflection there is black pepper spice drying the wine, too. The firm Jaboulet was about to enter a period of marked decline at that stage, with the 1997 death of Gerard Jaboulet before this wine was selected and bottled. It is good, but lacks the charm and excitement the better years of La Chapelle show. Tasters liked it less than I did, no first or second places, six least places, but interestingly, only three thought it French. It certainly did not seem petite in the company, as French wines so often can in Australian tastings. This is partly a reflection of the kind of Australian wines I think worth cellaring. Cellar 5 15 years. GK 03/17
Ruby more than garnet, some velvet, the third deepest. Bouquet epitomises the lighter more fragrant phases of shiraz in Australia, where not over-ripened: nearly floral with carnation characters grading to mint, red rather than black fruits, some plummyness, not too oaky. Palate is a little more 'regular', slightly fleshy fruit with a hint of boysenberry, and a little more oak than the bouquet suggests. This is an attractive and not yet fully mature wine, which should be good with food. Cellar 5 12 years. As the first-placed wine in the tasting line-up, it was one of the softer ones, designed to illustrate 'concept shiraz / syrah' without being a shock to the virgin palate. It did this admirably. No first or second places, one least, nobody thought it French. GK 03/17
Ruby and garnet, right in the middle for weight. Initial bouquet had a slightly drab note reminiscent of plasticine or putty, on aromatic minty berry and red fruits. It breathed up nicely. Palate is more old-style, a lot of fragrant American oak and quite tannic, but good plummy hinting at boysenberry fruit richness wrapped around the tannins. The oak exacerbates quite strong mintyness, which tiptoes towards being euc'y. The total wine style is therefore one of the bigger bolder wines, in the company. In its style it will cellar for many more years, say 5 15. People do like oak, so this was one of the three most popular wines, three first places, eight second places, but also two leasts, with one thinking it might be French. GK 03/17
Ruby and garnet, below midway in depth. Bouquet is dark, aromatic, complex, darkly spicy rather than minty, fruit and oak tightly entwined. Palate gives one a better feel for the wine, berry now detectable in a very dry and browning cassisy way, medium weight, a similar level of (it seemed) mainly French oak close to the La Chapelle, but here rendered more cloves-spicy by low-level brett. Despite the good fruit, the latter factor leads to a drying finish, with hints that this wine should be finished up sooner rather than held for too much longer. As it stands, a very attractive food wine. No first or second places, four least, one person thought it French. GK 03/17
Ruby and garnet, velvet, the second deepest colour. Bouquet is classical Barossa Valley ripe to over-ripe shiraz, well braced by fragrant American oak, all rich and ripe and spirity. Its qualities expand in mouth, lashings of darkly plummy nearly-sweet fruit with clear suggestions of boysenberry, the oak providing a tannin backbone, the flavours mouth-saturating and long. This is archetypal old-style premium South Australian shiraz, which will cellar for years. In one sense it is at a peak now, being smooth in a furry-tannins way, and long-flavoured on oak as well as rich fruit. Nobody rated it their top wine, but two thought it second-best, no least places, and nobody thought it French. Cellar 5 15 years. The origin of the name E & E is not widely known: the company does not reply to correspondence. Thanks to Michael Parker, I find the answer is Elmore and Elaine, vineyard names, given in an article by Merrill Witt. GK 03/17
Ruby and garnet, in the middle for depth. If the E & E is classical old-style Barossa, this is classical old- style McLaren Vale. It is richly shiraz over-ripened to the boysenberry level, the bouquet lifted by high alcohol, and all made fragrant by American oak. It is a style of wine which still has a big following. Flavours in mouth are soft, rich, 'sweet' and velvety, the boysenberry flavours big and rich (but I am not allowed to say, unsophisticated), the wine braced by quite big oak leaving an almost tannic finish underneath the fruit sweetness. For those who love this wine style, this kind of wine works with bold foods too, but for other people, the drier lighter wines at the other end of my marking scale appeal more particularly for subtler foods. This is the third of the three popular wines, five people rated Dead Arm their favourite wine, four their second, one the least. Nobody thought it French. Cellar 5 15 years. GK 03/17
Garnet more than ruby, the lightest (and oldest) colour. Bouquet is piquant, spicy and distinctive, reflecting both the florality of cooler-climate shiraz, and the spice of Brettanomyces. Palate is more in the weight and style of the Langi shiraz, showing beautiful browning cassisy berry, wonderfully subtle oak, and good length. Brett however is becoming obtrusive, and brett nazis would reject this wine out of hand, and contemptuously, ignoring all its plus-points. Most people, happily, merely see it as attractively spicy, a wine crying out for venison casserole, or a dish with large dark brown portobello mushrooms. It is therefore hard to score, extremists not allowing any medal ranking, but most people are more flexible. Not a wine to serve to winemakers, however. Better to finish this wine up sooner rather than later, while the fruit is still long and reasonably sweet. It will progressively dry off, and there is always the worry with bretty wines, that off-odours and flavours associated with Brettanomyces' running mate Pichia will develop. Two rated this their top wine, perhaps because it is so supple and reminiscent of aromatic pinot noir, one second place, four least, and six thought it French. GK 03/17
Invitation to Part II:
The goals for this tasting are several:
# as a follow-up to the 1996 Library Tasting, to breathe life into the currently quiet Australian red-wine market in New Zealand, now that New Zealand reds have become so good (thanks to modern New Zealand viticulture, which now has some regard to classical French cropping rates);
# secondly to try and have a good geographic spread with a couple of the wines repeated in both the 1996 vintage review and the current vintages batch, to see how they change over 20 years. The Cape Mentelle and the Lloyd Reserve are exact repeats from the 1996 tasting, the Burge Filsell is from the same vineyard as Meshach, but their third price-tier down, while the Seppelt St Peters is an upmarket relative of the Mount Ida from the first batch. We do not have the same geographic spread as Part I, no Hunter Valley, but two of the exciting cooler areas of Victoria, the Grampians, and the Yarra Valley, are represented, as well as Margaret River;
# and thirdly to include both exciting modern Australian districts, and if possible, exciting modern producers. The latter point is hardest to achieve, since many now-emerging Australian winemakers scarcely export to New Zealand. However, Domaine Chandon, John Duval's winery, and Two Hands represent the new approach, and the St Peters represents the best of the old, reinvigorated.
# Finally, since we had one classic French syrah wine in the Library batch, to serve as a calibration wine for the syrah / shiraz debate, it will be fun to have a well-rated New Zealand syrah in the current Australian batch of shirazes.
Having checked all the wines on Regional Wine's current stock-list against Halliday's Wine Companion rating, we are presenting 12 well-regarded shirazes all with scores of 93 or more points, one 95, one 96, and four of them 97 points: Coriole Lloyd Reserve, Elderton Command, Seppelt St Peters, and Wirra Wirra RSW. Then the thought occurred, with Penfolds Grange now having reached stratospheric price levels, such that few of us in fact taste it any more, plus Halliday scoring the current Grange 99 points, wouldn't it be good to add that into the strictly blind tasting. Will a 99-point wine stand out, to a well-informed Regional Wines tasting audience, amongst other good wines ?
So this is a tasting which we have not had at Regional Wines for some years. It presents an unparalleled opportunity to both check eleven Australian shirazes to see if they suit you for cellaring (because shiraz is Australia's most famous red wine, and Australian red wines, being generally rich, do in fact cellar very well), and to catch up on an Australian icon wine. The price of Grange does raise the price a bit, but the opportunity to taste it in such an informative setting should not be missed. With such an exciting diversity of labels, our presentation has to be blind, simply to see if we can taste the price differences. The usual whiteboard analysis of tasters' conclusions will be made, before the wines are identified and discussed, one by one.
The Part II wines as a group showed a measure of sophistication relative to the 1996s, but not by much, since the 1996s were chosen at the time exactly to cellar as wines which were not caricature over-ripe, over-oaked, and euc'y Australian reds. And 1996 was a year of climatic restraint, in Australia. Nonetheless, half the current batch show a positive backing-off in ripeness, a tiptoe-ing towards 'concept syrah' for the winestyle, as opposed to 'concept shiraz'. I'm not too sure many Australian winemakers think in those terms, but if you export your wine, then overseas buyers are entitled to put their own interpretation on them.
The cut-off for the top wines in the current-vintage tasting was less clear, but my top five were: 2013 Coriole Shiraz Lloyd Reserve, 18.5 +, as rich as the 1995 in Part I but more refined; 2013 Cape Mentelle Shiraz, 18.5 +, stylish and syrah-like; 2014 Elephant Hill Syrah Reserve, 18.5, as rich as the Australians but differing in its bouquet due to a whole-bunch component; 2014 John Duval Shiraz Entity, <18 +>, smooth and flavoursome; and 2012 Wirra Wirra Shiraz RSW, 18 +, akin to the Lloyd Reserve but a little more oak.
There are three standout wines in the current batch: 2013 Coriole Shiraz Lloyd Reserve demonstrates that Australian red wines can be beautiful as well as big; the 2013 Cape Mentelle Shiraz is an international-quality wine of syrah calibre, far from the richest in the group, but long, pleasing, satisfying with food, a wine you could drink all evening. That is rarely the case for the bigger Australian reds. The third standout wine is 2012 Penfolds Grange Bin 95. It makes evident that their winemakers have learnt very little from contemporary classic winestyles in recent decades. The fine wine world has changed since 1950, see review. Yes, it is remarkably concentrated, but in its elevation the nett result is a coarse, brash wine, a caricature of all that is wrong with traditional Australian red wine. Any wine-country which worships this clumsy monster as a desirable goal of winemaking is seriously out of tune with worldwide wine opinion. Wine is about beauty, subtlety and finesse. 2012 Grange does not qualify under any of those headings. Of course, you are not allowed to say so. So many reviews, both domestic and overseas, are written under the persuasive influence of the winemaker, whether consciously or not. One of the reviews quoted hints at this. Why else would corporate winemakers travel so widely ? Locally, this is the tragedy of so much Australasian winewriting, where so many people are so totally under the thumb of conservative wine industry stalwarts. Conform, or else. Will we never learn from the (at best) more detached and scholarly American and British approach to winewriting ?
As with Part I, the wines were presented blind, decanted into 12 uniform bottles, then masked. The ranking exercise was completed before any discussion and identification took place.
References: as for Part I.
THE WINES REVIEWED, Part II:
# Value: The price indications for each wine below are current purchase price, noting there is some variation between wine merchants.
# Sources: as for Part I.
# * an asterisk denotes a wine additional to the formal tasting, therefore not ranked etc.
Ruby, carmine and velvet, just under midway in depth. Bouquet is immediately darkly plummy and rich; it almost smells dense. There are dusky florals akin to the Mentelle, but deeper and darker, gorgeous. This bouquet appeals for its almost total lack of mint, and no euc at all. You do wonder if it is just a bit too dark, too much sun, but there is no hint of vulgar boysenberry. Flavour and texture are a notch richer than the Mentelle, and though it is mostly ripened past cassis and blueberry, it is seriously concentrated at the bottled dark plum flavour point (on my syrah ripening curve sequence). Flavour is rich, textured, and velvety, a hint of black-pepper spice, a beautiful balance of oak matching the berry concentration but subordinate, lovely. Though Australian, it is almost big-year syrah in a New Zealand / French sense, too. This was one of the top two wines in the tasting, seven rating it their top wine, one second, no leasts, three thought it could be Penfolds, and nobody thought it New Zealand. Cellar 5 25 + years. GK 04/17
Ruby and some velvet, a little older than most, the second lightest wine in the younger set. Bouquet is not light however, improving with air to show almost classic syrah near-florality and cassisy berry grading to blueberry, fruit dominant, subtle oak, not too spirity, a hint of black-pepper spice possibly with faintest mint totally at a positive level. Palate is in the same vein, supple, berry-forward, beautiful oaking, a wine which epitomises the notion that good syrah shows all the charm of pinot noir, but is stronger and more spicy. The nett flavour is long, lingering, and satisfying, a lovely varietal wine. Cape Mentelle really should capitalise on its advantages, and re-brand their top shiraz as syrah. Just to make a point of difference, and indicate its qualities. It depends on how many years in every 10 the moderation in this wine can be achieved, I guess. Nobody rated this their top wine, one second place, two least, nobody thought it Penfolds, and three thought it New Zealand (which made sense). Cellar 3 18 years. GK 04/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, the third deepest wine. Bouquet improves with air to be stunningly different from the other wines, fragrant yet with a dark component we all struggled to find words for. There is this overlay on the cassisy berry which suggests black olives, portobello mushrooms, and even aspects of mocha, yet it is different from the Lloyd in a quite different way, that wine being simply concentrated dark plum. Palate is juicy, rich, beautiful texture from the lower alcohol, a wine which will mature effortlessly into something much more European than Australian in style. The different character on bouquet is due to the whole-bunch component, and it is worth noting that it would look different in a New Zealand line-up too, unless Trinity Hill Homage or Rod Easthopes Moteo Syrah were included. Three rated this their top wine, two second, four their least reflecting how different it was, nobody thought it Penfolds but five thought it New Zealand. Cellar 5 18 years. GK 04/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, clearly above midway in depth. Bouquet is both floral and aromatic, lifted by attractive flowering mint (Prostanthera) characters, but no hint of euc. This wine too is nearly floral in a dusky way, and like the Lloyd Reserve the berry character is concentrated around the darkest bottled plum analogy, with hints of black-pepper. Palate is rich but more oaky than the wines rated more highly, but it is good oak. It is great to see the backing-off in ripening in these Australian shirazes, so many of the wines now stopping well short of clumsy boysenberry levels of ripeness. Nobody rated this the top wine, two second, two least, nobody thought it Penfolds, and two thought it New Zealand. Cellar 5 20 + years. GK 04/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, below midway in depth. This wine is immediately more Australian, clear mint aromatics, on cassisy grading to dark bottled plum fruit, again escaping boysenberry. Oak is a little more apparent than the wines ranked more highly, but in mouth the wine is smooth and velvety, with quite a free-run quality to it, not tannic on oak, so it is fragrant subtle oak. Length of flavour is good, but the mint and oak combine a little to linger on palate, drying the finish. Not quite eucy, though. One person rated this top, one second, none least, none Penfolds, and one thought it could be New Zealand. This wine style is a long way from Penfolds, which may explain why Duval went out on his own. Cellar 5 20 + years. GK 04/17
Ruby and velvet, a little older than some, near the middle for depth. Bouquet is quiet, nearly floral, some flowering mint, blueberry the dominant fruit analogy. Palate picks up the mintyness on a fruit weight more Cape Mentelle than McLaren Vale, but the higher alcohol accentuates the oak and mint a little much. There are still syrah suggestions in this wine, though. Nobody rated it top, two second, nobody least, two thought it Penfolds, and none New Zealand. Cellar 5 – 18 years. GK 04/17
Ruby and velvet, older than most, the third to lightest. First impressions on bouquet are of more oak relative to the field, and the wine quite minty too, on good berry showing blueberry qualities grading to plum, with a thought of milk chocolate. Palate is subtler and suppler than the bouquet suggests, making one think the oak is French and older rather than newer. Apart from the mint, there is a fleeting reminder of Guigal's Cote Rotie Brune & Blonde here. Good food wine, on the lower alcohol. No first or second places, two least, nobody thought it Penfolds, and one thought it could be New Zealand. Cellar 3 18 years. GK 04/17
Ruby, the lightest and oldest-looking wine. This is more regular-quality Australian shiraz, obvious mintyness hinting at euc'y, very oaky on bouquet, yet good fruit but it all smells of red fruits, raspberry and red plum. That side of it is a little unusual, suggesting long elevage. Palate confirms, despite the alcohol there is some smoothness, and good richness of ripe flavours riper than any of the wines marked more highly, but still with some restraint. There is a tactile fruit richness which seems sweet, but isn't. Alcohol and mint / euc roughen the later palate a little. Four people rated this as their top wine, no second places, one least, two thought it could be Penfolds, and two maybe New Zealand. It is a bit too eucy for that interpretation. Cellar 5 25 years, probably to score higher as a mellow, lighter-coloured, but rich wine. GK 04/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, above midway in depth. Being so young, this is a more boisterous wine, fragrant robust dark bottled plum fruit, some flowering mint but not eucy exactly, some oak. Palate shows big juicy youthful fruit, the degree of ripeness going beyond sophisticated plum to a hint of boysenberry, the oak not at all married in, as yet. One of two wines to have obvious residual sweetness, to broaden its commercial appeal. No top placings, but three second, no least, one thought it might be Penfolds, and two maybe New Zealand. Cellar 5 20 + years, despite the sweetness. GK 04/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, the second deepest wine. Bouquet is clean, big, and darkly plummy, richly fruity, scarcely any mint. Palate is lesser, rich but tending raw and unpolished by oak, not the concentration of the better wines despite the depth of colour. It is not noticeably oaky, so there might be a higher ratio of press wine here, than some in the tasting. The long aftertaste tends to support that interpretation, the tannins being skinsy rather than oaky. With time in bottle, this should mellow into an agreeable and representative better Barossa Valley red. Cellar 10 25 years. GK 04/17
Saturated ruby, carmine and velvet, by far the deepest colour, bespeaking a phenomenally low cropping rate. Bouquet is intense, and intensely aromatic, almost pungent on lightly minty and cassisy / darkly plummy berry lifted by both coarse oak and a level of VA which is unsubtle nowadays, no matter how well this attribute has served the label in the past. Bouquet also shows both strong vanillin and darkest high-cacao chocolate notes, all very oaky and verging on aggressive. Palate would be velvet on the stunning dry extract, if the VA and oak were not so high, roughening the wine right through the palate and aftertaste, so the finish is strong and tannic on both skin tannins and clumsy oak. When you think of the smells and flavours of 2010 J L Chave Hermitage, and 2010 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, wines defining what syrah / shiraz should be, you can only weep for what might have been accomplished here, given fruit of this quality, if the winemakers were not so hidebound to a now-out-of-date tradition. As I have said before, Grange is not a wine any longer, but a national monument sadly with feet of clay, and worshipped by the me-too crowd. Even respected winewriters can get sucked into the corporate hype. Not one of the reviews above mentions the VA, for example. But, de gustibus non disputandum est this was the most favoured wine in the tasting, six people rated it their top wine, four their second, one least, nine thought it Penfolds, and one lone voice thought it could be New Zealand. In its heroic style, it needs 20 years to come together, and will cellar for 50 years easily. On the positive side, how wonderful, after decades of cheapskate presentation, to find branded, dated, 50 mm quality corks, and a quality capsule dated on the tip. But as Halliday says in his review: Oh for a screwcap. Our first bottle opened was seriously corked, requiring a second bottle pretty distressing at an asking price of $892.50. GK 04/17
Ruby and velvet, older naturally, in the middle for depth. Bouquet is quite different from the other wines, partly the age factor, but also a level of ripeness more the older style of Barossa Valley shiraz, dark plum grading to boysenberry, nearly a hint of malt, quite a lot of oak exacerbated by mintyness going on euc'y, fragrant but old-fashioned. Flavour is big too, reflecting the aromas plus licorice, a hint of baking as in plum tart, but the oak and alcohol rough and strong. Finish is dry to very dry, tannic, the flavours long and lingering. Big wine for big unsubtle manly meals. Cellar 5 20 years, perhaps to show some of the qualities of the fresher Elderton wine, once some tannins polymerise in bottle. GK 04/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, towards the deeper end. Bouquet is more mainstream Australian, rich fruit but minty going on euc'y, plus a lot of oak, both the aromatics and the oak exacerbated by high alcohol. Fruit ripeness manages to be more darkest plum, but some boysenberry too, a big robust unsubtle wine, needing a long time in bottle to mellow out. Two people rated it their top wine, two their second, three their least, while one thought it Penfolds, and one thought it New Zealand. Cellar 5 20 + years. GK 04/17
Ruby, carmine and velvet, above midway in depth. This wine is quite different from the others in the tasting, having a raw unknit aspect to it suggesting some of the wine is in fact raised in stainless steel. It is quite minty on bouquet, on robust darkly plummy fruit. Palate is juicy, rich, but becoming euc'y rather than minty, compared with the bouquet. The raw quality continues, with very little elevation complexity showing. There is trace residual sugar. All that said, there are a lot of grapes per bottle, and pricewise there is an appeal in having more than three cases of this under the floorboards, rather than one bottle of Grange. I will enjoy this a good deal more given 10 years mellowing in bottle. Nobody rated this top, one second place, four least, nobody thought it Penfolds, and two thought it New Zealand. Cellar 5 18 years. GK 04/17