There are tastings that are merely excellent, and there are tastings that are memorable. This was one of the latter. It took place in the splendid galleried Mortlock Wing of the State Library of South Australia. Mark Davidson of Wine Australia handled a panel which included Huon Hooke (aka ‘The Trusted Voice in Wine’) and Peter Barry of Jim Barry Wines, as well as critic Bruce Schoenfeld and sommelier Kim Bickley of Black by Ezard in Sydney. 100-strong audience down great central table. John Duval sitting at the very end (Davidson hauls him up to talk about the Grange). A huge, leisurely (three and a half hours) tasting, which is repeated the next day. Six bottles each per day of some very fine and very expensive wines.
What a line-up. Every wine was a beacon of excellence – I had two cavils with the Plantagenet and the De Bortoli, which I found short in the tannins, but I was knocked back by Hooke and Davidson, who said just drink the bloody stuff.
Some old favourites like the pre-eminent Jamsheed Garden Gully, and some I’d never tasted like the Craiglee and the Bests No 0. If I had to choose one to take home with me? The Hill of Grace. Or the Jasper Hill. Or the Craiglee. Frankly, if I was given any one of those bottles for dinner tonight I would count myself lucky.
[The tasting was part of the Savour 2013 conference in Adelaide, September]
[The tasting was part of the Savour 2013 conference in Adelaide, September]
Plantagenet 2010 Mt Barker WA
See-through garnet hue
Wonderful leather and cedar nose with stewed pruney fruit and pencil lead. Very linear precise tannins, ripe and soft but with good grip. Cooked dark fruit. Slightly disappointing length – fall off of tannins.
De Bortoli Estate Reserve 2010 Yarra Valley VA
Lovely rich garnet, almost like Pinot in transparency.
Sweet attractive jammy nose with green notes of very juicy capsicum, sugar snap pea, dissipating quickly. Full-bodied round more pepper with plum and prune. Pepper notes persist, tannins very very soft. Length a ghostly presence, though fruit goes on.
Jamsheed Garden Gully 2010 Great Western VA
Dark purply red
Minimal treatment, minimal oak, no fining, no added yeast
Nose has notes of hay, old leather, cedar. Sweet cassis, blackberry compote.Notes of sweet tar and pencil lead. Tannins more insistent than what’s gone before – but not dominant, holding up the fruit which has jam and sweetness, some red fruit, cooked raspberry with balsamic, and a bit of salinity. Very attractive juicy finish. Loved it in May in London and love it now.
Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock 2009 Heathcote VA
Purple with lighter ruby rim
Attractive notes of green pepper, mown grass, hay on nose, then ripe fruit on the briar with leaves. Lovely pot pourri and and fresh acidic palate – the whole very fresh and clean with leafy dry notes. Tannins dry then dissolving on the tongue to release juice. Lovely dusty length. Soft and in a minor key: everything there for a purpose.
McWlliams Mount Pleasant Old Paddock and Old Hill 2010 Hunter Valley NSW
Bright reddish purple, see through
Blackberry and cream nose, sweet vanilla oakiness with acid heft on palate, creamy sweet palate with spicy clove tannins with grip and density. Soft plum fruit, blueberry and dark stone fruit.
d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz 2009 McLaren Vale SA
Nose quite closed but hint of brooding fruit there. Mighty tannic palate but not aggressive. Rich alcohol-soaked fruit, raisins and plums and black cherry. Splendid dry tannic end. Needs time
Spinifex La Maline 2010 Barossa Valley SA
Includes 2% Roussanne
Lovely powerful licorice and violet nose, old-style perfume. Fresh open palate with plums, damson, bright dark fruit with no hint of red, sour dry tannins with juicy finish. Excellent, long, drinking well now but will last for ever.
Torbreck The Factor 2009 Barossa Valley SA
Tar and piney resin on the nose with eucalyptus. Medium huge palate with fresh acidity and dry tannins. Ripe black porty fruit, sweet but dense and leathery, elegant even delicate length, mouthwatering dissolving tannins. Amazing. Length goes on for minutes.
Craiglee 1996 Sunbury Victoria
Cold winters and long hot summers. Sunbury is a GI but tiny.
Handharvested handmade. Included in Langtons. Gorgeous perfumed nose with lovely peppery, leathery spice. Deep red fruit – old cooked strawberry, almost fermented summer berries – some age on this nose – secondary fruit coming over. Highly acidic, almost sour palate with powerful dense fruit on the red spectrum. Not hugely long but very pretty.
Best’s Bin No 0 1997 Great Western VA
Aged in big puncheons 2 years. Vineyard planted 1886. (Huon Hooke: 'This was planted in 1886. Or was it 76? I should know, I worked a vintage there'. Davidson: 'In 1886? You're looking good on it, mate')
Nose a bit tight and giving little. Rich perfumed palate with mint and candied licorice. Lots of bright lifted red cherry fruit and sweet integrated tannins. Very fine, very fine unassertive juicy length. Like the Craiglee seems aged beyond its years – settled, delicious, but settling into a harmonious and long journey into old age.
Mount Langi Ghiran Langi 1996 Grampians VA
Made by Trevor Mast who died last year.
Wonderfully expressive nose, savoury and smoky. Bright, secondary flavours on the palate, sour dark cherry. Shows great maturity – seems a good 10 years older.
Rockford Basket Press 1996 Barossa Valley SA
Smoky savoury leathery nose, great gouts of powerful smoky spice on the palate with plums preserved in aromatic spices – cinnnamon and clove – very ripe textured tannins, dense sweet tart tannins with tremedous juice and power. Very fine, powerful length. Will get better and better over the next 15 years. Will reach peak in 3-5 years.
Jim Barry The Armagh 1998 Clare Valley VA
This vintage was watered twice. 12 months 50/50 oak, 14.5% alcohol
Peter Barry –‘we don’t tell anyone how much we make because we charge quite a lot and then people would be able to work out how much money we make and why would we do that? To make this quality it’s all about what you leave out - we don’t harvest the end rows because they have more soil and so a bigger canopy for example.’
Lovely rotted bretty nose – rain-soaked forest floor, mushrooms – delicious aromas, really powerful. Great heft of tactile spice on the palate, with blackberry compote and black pepper. Set off by soft, precise tannins, fine grained and elegant.
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2005 Canberra District NSW
12ha of vines
Sweet candied lemon perfume on the nose. Hint of slightly unctuous spice on the palate. Blackberry fruit, very open aspirated palate – a refreshing mintiness. Seems more delicate and precise than the previous one. Lovely juicy tannins.
Henschke Hill of Grace 2004, Eden Valley SA
Now under Vinolok glass closure
Bramble greenness on the nose with mint and blackberry, exotic spices, a cedar box with compacted candied sweets. Very fresh very elegant palate, with saltiness and such perfumed acidity and fresh ripe tannins.Primary fruit characters, lovely dry fine tannins moving into juicy length. Lingering dust and pot pourri at finish.
Penfolds Grange 1999, SA
John Duval – ‘99 was a sleeper vintage- it crept up on us. For me this is still a bit young, a bit arms and legs – this wine’s got a lot of potential.’
100% new American oak.
Tarry nose with plum and blackberry notes. Strong spicy tannins on the palate, dry tannins getting juicy as they develop in the mouth – not exploding (as they will in time) but dissolving to juice. Fruit submerged at the moment - all arms and legs as John says –but when it comes up it will be dark and sweet – a dark and sweet core with raspberry and strawberry touching the edges.