Like lots of us in wine I have tried a great many Australian wines in my time. Many of the wines that excited me in my youth came from down under, but I have rather foolishly ignored what Australia can offer for far too long. However, a few experiences recently have made me realise that I should rekindle that dormant passion and renew acquaintance with some of the amazing wines that Australia makes.
Some recent Australian highlights have been a range of wines from Grant Burge – whose sensational Barossa Valley wines should be more widely celebrated – and unearthing a bottle of 1992 Lindemans Limestone Ridge Coonawarra Shiraz-Cabernet. This had been sleeping in my wine rack and had developed more complexity than I would ever have imagined. Interstingly the current vintage, 2008, has 14.5% alcohol – whereas my 1992 came in at just 12.5%.
So this new found desire to study Australia more together with my ongoing mission to discover great wines that do not require a mortgage for me to buy them, took me to this years Wolf Blass Luxury Release tasting.
Wolf Blass are one of the really famous Aussie producers and sort of set the trends for a lot of the newer guys. They are not old, having been founded by Wolfgang Blass in 1973 and many others have roots in the nineteenth century, but they came along exactly when Australian wine was beginning to change and become mainstream. They have become part of the Australian wine zeitgeist and many consumers know their reliable and approachable Yellow Label wines even if they do not know the higher level ranges, indeed Wolf Blass have come to be seen as a brand rather than a top-producer. This tasting though was all about the top end wines of the Wolf Blass stable and it was a really fascinating insight into the remarkable quality they can produce.
I find it interesting that much of the fame of a wine region like Bordeaux rests on its great, top end wines – Château Latour et al – with many of the other estates relying on a measure of reflected glory and reputation to help them sell the wines that most of us actually drink. It strikes me that in the New World, however, it is almost the reverse, with the reputation of many wineries being made by the more everyday wines and some of that prestige then being redirected to help the consumer trade up to their rarer and reserve bottlings.
My host was the wonderfully informative and patient Chris Hatcher who joined the company as long ago as 1987 and is now the Chief Winemaker for the group. It is always so refreshing when speaking to a guy like Chris who seems to keep no secrets and imparts a sense of wonder and delight when explaining his craft.
Chris took me through three tiers, the original range of terroir wines – Grey Label – then the Black Label which is a selection of the best barrels blended in a house style. We finished with the pinnacle of what Wolf Blass do, the Platinum Label.
Grey Label – Chris explained that this was the original concept behind Wolf Blass, real terroir wines from South Australia. We think of the place as hot, but McLaren Vale has some cooling coastal influence and that really does show up in the wines.
2005 Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz
Deep ruby colour with a pungent red fruit nose of spice. Lovely palate of crunchy fruit, bright points of acidity, fine grain tannins and some tight grained smoky oak.
Real finesse and elegance here with concentrated fruit red mingling with smoky spice. This really took me by surprise it felt much cooler than I would have imagined, with lovely elegance and freshness balancing the richness beautifully – 90/100 points.
2007 Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz
Rich earthy and leathery notes. Deeper, denser nose of spice and black cherry – this is very black fruit. Vibrant soft fruit fills out the rounded palate making it very attractive. The finish is pretty alcoholic, but very long, full and soft. Youthful, bright fruit dominates this wine at the moment which makes it feel much more typically Australian than the 2005, but it is delicious and presumably will age well – 90/100 points.
2009 Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz (80%) – Cabernet Sauvignon (20%)
Robe (70%) – Mount Benson (30%)
The 2009 Grey Label changed its source to the Limestone Coast areas of Mount Benson and the emerging area of Robe just to the south on the coast – drought conditions had left the traditional areas of McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek too saline, whereas these cool maritime areas are very promising indeed.Intense bright ruby colour and a minty eucalyptus, spice and coffee nose – the Cabernet is dominant to no small degree at the moment. Fresh, lively red fruit dominates the palate giving real elegance and lively balance. Richer chocolate, coffee and spice balance the juicy palate then the freshness and dry oak come in. There are some firm tannins here, but they are not aggressive and will soften with age – 91/100 points
Availability in the UK:
2005 Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz is available from Tesco Wine by the Case @ £123 for a case of 6 bottles.
2006 Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz is available from Corking Wines.com @ £19.20 per bottle.
2007 Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz is available from Slurp.co.uk @ £19.80 per bottle.
Black Label – Chris explained that this was the best barrels of the year blended in a house style.
1998 Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon – in magnum
89% Barossa valley Cabernet Sauvignon with 11% made up of Langhorne Creek Shiraz and McLaren Vale Merlot.
Deep Garnett, earthy colour. A lifted nose of leather, herbs, coffee, figs, plums, oak and smoke. Lovely rich fruit in the mouth, fresh and dried, with supple tannins, savoury flavours, leather, earthy, sweet and sour nuances – almost saline at times. This is multi-layered, complex and fine. I thought this was a glorious wine, perhaps the fact that this was from magnum made it especially good – 92/100 points.
2005 Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon (51%) – Shiraz (49%)
Barossa Valley (49%), Langhorne Creek (31%), McLaren Vale (20%)
Smoky oak notes, savoury bacon and spicy. Tight, but elegant, fine grain smoky tannins dominate the palate right now. Coffee flavours, touches of leather, deep rich plums and rich dried fruit. Lovely now, but could age well as tight tannins balance the fruit really well – 90/100 points.
2007 Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon (70%) – Shiraz (22%) – Malbec (8%)
Langhorne Creek (85%), McLaren Vale (15%)
Deep, opaque purply red, purply. Fragrant and gamey nose with rich blackcurrant fruit, tea and spice. The palate delivers a sumptuous texture of fleshy fruit, then rich toasty oak, coffee, spice and firm dry, but smooth tannins leading to rich chocolate and spice on the finish. Really intense and inky, but dry – not jammy – 92/100 points.
Availability in the UK:
2005 Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet-Shiraz is available from Corking Wines.com @ £42.25 per bottle.
2007 Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz-Malbec is available from Slurp.co.uk @ approx £55.00 per bottle.
Platinum Label – this range represents the finest selection of fruit and was launched with the 1998 vintage, Chris told me that they do not want to make big heavy wines and this range perhaps shows their style at its best.
1998 Wolf Blass Platimun Label Barossa Shiraz
This pure Shiraz is labelled as Barossa Valley, but actually comes from a vineyard in the cooler Eden Valley which gives just half a ton to the acre – they normally expect one and a half to two and a half – the vines are dry farmed and are 70 years old.
Rich nose of dried fruit and fresh blackcurrant, loads of dried fruit, fresh fruit, peel, leather, smoke and caramel notes – almost scented like a candle! The plush palate is studded with spice, opulent fruit moving to a savoury, gamey finish that is nicely balanced by freshness. This is a terrific wine and I want some – 94/100 points.
2002 Wolf Blass Platimun Label Barossa Shiraz
This cool vintage Shiraz is a blend of fruit from Eden Valley and Barossa proper.
Smoky oak dominates the nose with coffee, dried blackcurrant and spice. A gorgeous palate with rich fruit and nicely structured firm, but smooth tannins and smoky savoury flavours. I really loved the balance here – 93/100 points
2008 Wolf Blass Platimun Label Barossa Shiraz
Pure Shiraz from the Medlands vineyard on the Barossa Valley floor.
Intense opaque cassis colour. The nose is cool fresh and spicy with tight cassis fruit and fragrant smoky notes. Fat ripe fruit – fresh cassis and deeper prunes – makes the palate soft and succulent, the fruit masking firm oak spice and fine grain tannins. This youthful Shiraz is the most typically Australian if you drink it now, but from what I have seen here it will develop much more complexity – 91/100 points
Availability in the UK:
2005 Wolf Blass Platinum Label Shiraz is available from Tesco Wine by the Case @ £276.00 for a case of 6 bottles.
2004 Wolf Blass Platinum Label Shiraz is available from Corking Wines.com @ £46.80 per bottle.
2008 Wolf Blass Platinum Label Shiraz is available from Slurp.co.uk @ approx £65.00 per bottle.
It has become something of a cliche of modern wines that they are delicious to drink on release and can also be aged, it really was true here. The young wines gave an explosion of fruit which masked the tannins and most of the structure – which made them attractive and approachable. The older wines though had emerged from their obviously fruity stage to be something much more complex and compelling.
What is more they deliver value for money. The prices are certainly eye watering when compared to average bottles of wine, but these are not average bottles of wine. They deliver a real taste experience by being rich and expressive with depth and concentration whilst retaining finesse and elegance, this makes them truly fine wines. So, if you want great and ageworthy wine that delivers complexity, elegance and character, you could do much worse than look to the Barossa Valley and South Australia.