Burge’s fortified treasure trove
(FYI: I’ve written this with my ‘print publication’ hat on so the tone is a little different to most of the rest of the posts on this blog)
|Grant Burge’s new Flor yeast starter
Has sex appeal for yeast addicts
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think Grant Burge wines?
For me it’s Shiraz, American oak and rich old school flavours. Grant Burge, in my head, stands for traditional Barossan styles, of solid, full flavoured wines that pack plenty of punch for their respective pricepoints, yet aren’t strictly all that exciting (though there’s exceptions of course, such as the sexy ‘Abednego’).
But there’s another layer to Grant Burge wines. A layer that fits in with this ‘classic Barossa’ ethos particularly well, something that I really wasn’t expecting to be impressed by during a recent trip to Grant Burge.
I’m talking about fortifieds, the forgotten soul of this part of the wine world. Specifically, I’m focusing on sherry, muscat, port et al, all of which just aren’t all that cool in the Barossa anymore.
I don’t think anyone told Grant Burge that though. Or at least he doesn’t listen to them.
Speaking of Grant, he seems to be a joyously headstrong character, with even his sons (who work as viticulturists and winemakers within the family business) butting heads with him over ideas. Grant is very much a self-made man, with his methods shaped by many years of having to build, grow and protect what has become one of the Barossa’s largest family operations. In fact, Grant Burge wines have the most vineyard plantings of any family in the Barossa, with Burge still vigorously planting at his new Corryton Park vineyard at the southern end of the Eden Valley.
Given the scale and success of this business then it’s of little wonder that Grant is so confident of his approach. The only challenge, perhaps, comes from the issue of just how dominant Grant obviously is within the business, which I’d argue may be limiting the innovation (by stifling others ideas) of the table wines in particular. Still, as his sons begin to stamp more of their personality on things you’d expect this to change, and the recent flow of new sparklings and moscatos (plus less new oak for the reds) show that evolution is happening. Watch this space.
On the flipside, this patience and love of traditional methods and styles is very conducive to fortified wine production, which probably explains why Burge is the only Barossan winemaker I know that is ramping up his fortified production. Heck, Grant’s even cultivating a population of flor yeasts for sherry production (see the picture above), which is positively archaic (but welcome) in the scheme of things.
|The Grant Burge fortified winery
Lots of fortified love
The photo to the right probably doesn’t do the place all that much justice, but it does give a little glimpse into how serious this fortified operation is. No forgotten warehouse here. Pictured is the main Burge fortified storage area, with extensive stocks of mature tawny port and Muscat taking pride of place. Burge is also working on a Pedro Ximénez to go alongside the aforementioned sherry project too (it’s about 5 years off yet), just to underline the attention this fortified lover is receiving (did I mention how much I love good PX? A barrel sample of Burge’s wine was already looking slinky).
My only question then is why? Why pursue fortifieds in an era when the style itself is dying? I put that question to Grant himself, and his main answer was that he felt it was part of his legacy, that this was a part of Barossan wine history that really needs to be preserved and nurtured.
Speaking of nurturing, the Burge team are exploring some innovative ways to market their tawny (the tawny being the main Burge fortified) too. One such idea is to have a cooper build branded 30 litre oak barrels and then fill them with youngish tawny, with the barrels essentially offered at just the price of the tawny within it to both trade and public. Apparently the takeup has been unexpectedly strong, as publicans and anyone with a home bar see this as a way of adding some old school bar stylin’ on a budget.
Just how good is this tawny you ask? Well, the 20yo has a raft of bling to it’s name, including Best Sweet Fortified over £10 at the 2010 Decanter Wine Awards, so it comes well qualified. Tastes it too, with all the effortless sweetness and richness that you expect of South Australian tawny port styles, yet with a savoury vein. A welcome savoury vein at that.
The wine that seduced me, however, was not this 20yo but an older Barossan tawny port style, a wine crafted using solera matured fortified Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvedre and a wine that is ‘estimated’ by Burge to be approximately 50 years old. This wine is known as ‘Percy’s Particular’ and is largely kept aside as the ultimate pinch hitter, with tiny drops added to the 20yo wine to give it that extra edge of complexity.
Sadly, I can’t begin to explain how expansive, decadent and powerful Percy’s Particular is really, for I had one of those world stopping, ‘shit this is good’ moments that was really very emotive (and deeply memorable) and stopped me actually writing a tasting note. It’s that good. The only thing that I can compare it to is the 100yo Seppelt Para ports, of which I’ve been lucky to try a few vintages of and count as some of the most memorable wine experiences of my life.
I wrote this note at the time of trying Percy’s however, and whilst it doesn’t make all that much sense really I think you get the gist:
Percy’s Particular Tawny (barrel sample)
‘Immensely syrupy, warm, powerful and full, burning, long, syrupy, choc richness through the finish. Sex wine. Choc caramel brown sugar sex wine. Achingly intense. Parker-like counting the minutes of the finish. Fucking amazing 19.2/96’
Suffice to say I liked it. Again, what sets this apart is that it never seemed overly sweet, unlike say Penfolds Grandfather, which always looks just too overtly oak-sweet and flashy. It’s a very soft style though, all about sugar rather than tannins, but the seduction is through the roof and the length is other-wordly. It lingered and lingered and lingered. Wow wine.
|Grant Burge 1956 Muscat
Amazingly concentrated stuff
As if that wasn’t enough, Grant brought out one further wine to up the ante – a barrel sample of a 1956 Barossan Muscat. To say it brought out a few ‘ewws’ and ‘arrs’ was to put it mildly. Personally, I found Percy’s to be a more complete wine, as the Muscat just looked a fraction volatile and heady, but no doubting the layers of chocolatey, richly raisined fruit that were so amazingly concentrated and dense that they also stopped time. I think fellow blogger Patrick ‘The Wining Pom’ Haddock remarked that he could ‘bathe in this stuff’ at the time (I snidely reminded him that as an Englishman it would be his first ever bath ;)).
After trying these little snippets of Barossan fortified history it was interesting to come right back to the 10yo and 20yo tawnys, with both wines showing welcome depth (the 20yo in particular) for a very fair price. I’d gladly have the 20yo on my kitchen bench.
In fact, looking at any of these wines and it’s blindingly obvious just how fine they are. World class is a modest description I think, for even top Portugese tawny port can’t match the unctuous depth of these babies (vintage port is a different story). Yet still they don’t get the recognition they deserve.
As we eventually shut the doors on this quiet old winery I was still left with questions. Can sweet fortifieds make a come back? Who, besides me (and Grant), still drinks them? How are we going to let the rest of the world know about these world class fortified treasures?
I still don’t know the answers….
Footnote: Special thanks to Grant Burge wines and Will Fuller/all the staff at Fuller for organising this trip.