My first O’Shea – Mount Pleasant red circa 1949-1951
Source: Kindly fellow judge
|Proper cellar dust too|
The details were sketchy. Actually, the wine didn’t even have a label. It was a proprietary, date stamped bottle though and several older, wiser heads attested to the authenticity of the style.
It was my first O’Shea. By that, I mean it was my first chance to try a wine made by legendary Hunter winemaker Maurice O’Shea, a man who sits alongside Schubert, Preece et al. amongst the pantheon of the 20th century Australian wine industry gods. He was particularly famous for his offbeat blends combining divergent regions, vintages and varieties, most well known being a Hunter Shiraz Pinot – a wine style which I notably tried to emulate for my never released student wine (with very average results).
Anyways, this particular red was Nick Bulleid MW’s contribution to the NSW Wine Awards judges dinner. As is the norm with such events, everyone brings a bottle with the understanding that the better the wine you bring the less scorn is heaped upon you by the other judges. It’s good-natured one-upmanship of the best kind and sharing bottles like this (and Nick has a history of bringing genuinely special old wines) almost make you glad that you gave up a day of your time to look at brackets of Chambourcin (I avoided the ‘other reds’ class this year. Scored plenty of young Shiraz though which was awesome).
But back to the O’Shea. As noted earlier the bottle was unlabelled, yet table consensus suggested that the juice inside was from circa 1949-1951. I say circa as the unlabelled bottle was stamped with 1949 on it, however Maurice was renowned for reusing old bottles so we can only guess the vintage date.
I quite like the mystery of what this wine might be, for it just helped to add another layer to the whole experience. An experience of a red wine that, at circa 61-63 years of age, was still looking good. In fact, good is selling it short, for this Hunter red still had that terracotta bricks, beef and saddles of old Hunter Shiraz, the palate still (still! At 60+ years of age) hanging on to some red fruit, with a hint of chocolate. The palate was soft, very advanced, but recognisably medium bodied and silken, the acid rising up, but still yet to take over the (just) decayed back end.
It was even better than I thought it would be. It was, unequivocally, both a beautiful old Hunter red and a silken old wine. It was decomposing and rustic but I genuinely enjoyed drinking it (which is rare perhaps as plenty of old reds are curios but rubbish to drink).
More than that this was a reverential experience. I was touching history, in the most clichéd form, and even though I’d already warmed up with about 6 beers, several old whites and a Champagne or two, I was swept up in the moment (as was much of the table) and had to have some quiet time.
I can only hope that it wasn’t my one and only O’Shea…
Drink: Still going