Jim Barry: Verticals of Florita, Armagh + McRae Wood
‘We made our first (Armagh) when Sam was in my underpants’
That’s Peter Barry, current Jim Barry Wines GM and Barry family patriarch, in typically blunt form. Think funny uncle telling bad jokes form, if you get what I mean.
Like his wines, Peter is an unashamedly open and approachable sort of character, very much in a pragmatic, assured, regional Australian mould. You can almost picture him in a wide brimmed hat (an Akubra if we ‘re typecasting), wandering through rows of Shiraz vines kicking dirt with his RM Williams.
Yet that old-school, wily farmer persona is not quite representative of the Jim Barry Wines in 2013. The business, you see, is changing, with Peter’s young sons Tom and Sam now taking a larger role in the family business than ever, the framework of a clear succession plan clicking into place.
The Barry boys have followed an almost pre-ordained path to get there too, with Tom completing the same University of Adelaide Bachelor of Oenology degree that his father did in 1985 and his grandfather in 1922, with Tom spending the last few years working vintage at Jim Barry, also fitting in a season at Dr Loosen and some American sales experience.
Sam, two years younger, instead counts a Bachelor of Commerce degree on his resume, with his first European vintage coming up in Burgundy shortly. Unlike his brother, Sam’s future is very much focused on the business, whilst Tom is more about making wine, their roles already (cleverly) symbiotic and sharing a (clearly genetic) love of wine.
It’s not just the family winery that the Barry brothers are focused on, with the clos Clare (little c on the clos, just to upset everyone) label their rather successful side project, pumping out excellent Clare Riesling, Shiraz and Grenache from a combination of Florita vineyard fruit (the clos Clare plot is a section of Florita) and local growers.
While it’s probably a little too early to tell, I think you already can see the influence of this new Barry generation on the most recent Jim Barry releases too – the younger Rieslings tighter, the oak influence on the Shiraz less obvious, the fruit less alcoholic and ripe, All of which bodes very well for the future of this famous family winery.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to witness the evolution of the wines myself, looking at verticals of most of the premium Jim Barry wines, including the Florita Riesling, McRae Wood and Armagh Shiraz, with all three Barry men on hand (and Mum at home chiding them to tweet more).
As you can see by the notes below, it wasn’t hard to appreciate such a lineup, with the Armagh, in particular, looking much better as an older wine than I expected, particularly considering that it has often been a 15% alcohol, super rich wines.
I have no qualms then, about the high scores given out here. So much Clare Valley deliciousness and so much consistency…
The following notes are largely unedited from the day (save for a grammar touch-up) with extra notes in italics. The wines were tasted non-blind at a rapid pace but I think I got their measure.
Bracket 1 – 2013 Rieslings
Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 2013
Sourced off a vineyard located at 480m above sea level, which is amongst the highest in the Clare.
Biting. Steely. Lime tang. Very linear. Quite backwards. Lovely lime juice freshness. Power. The shape here is much more severe than the other wines around it, which is quite surprising. Still lovely focus. 18/20 93/100+
Jim Barry Single Site Block 114 Riesling 2013
A new super-premium release sourced from a single plot of dry grown Riesling that has been bottled separately.
Very pretty. Really concentrated apple and lime juice. Perfect acidity. So fresh! A perfectly expressive, limey, essence-of-Clare style but also curranty and firm underneath. Explosion of lime flavours. Wonderful now. 18.8/20 95/100
Jim Barry Florita Riesling 2013
So much more linear again. Neutral even. A chalky chewy concentration on the back palate. Definitely more chewy. Long, chalk to finish. A slightly different shaped acidity here – more grapefruit, less lime. Will look better than the ‘single site’ in years to come. 18.5/20 94/100+
Bracket 2 – Florita vertical
Jim Barry Florita Riesling 2004
Petrol. Limey, custard tart juice. Very soft and I think quite advanced. Not ugly advanced but quite gentle and aged. Lime custard finish very appealing. Added acid to finish? Looks the very model of Riesling, if just a little hard. Still not quite in the prime of its life. 18/20 93/100
Jim Barry Florita Riesling 2005
Immediately more ripe and full than the 04 but also a very different wine. Definitely less classic. Fuller colour. Less classic perhaps. Maybe a little too ripe to be brilliant? big wine. Ripe orange juice fruit. Firm finish but a little shorter. Still has many years to come and going over a development hump. 17.7/20 92/100+
Jim Barry Florita Riesling 2008
Still carrying lime bath salt primary fruit. In a funny stage, the first richness of maturity over a very dry, neutral palate. Very biting acidity. Hold. This is a keeper. The extra limey drive through the finish marks this as a super wine. Yes. 18.5/20 94/100
Jim Barry Florita Riesling 2009
Hints of tangerine. Steely. Super firm acidity. Chewy phenolics. Maybe a little flat. Lots of acidity – ball of lemon soda water acidity. I came back to this and liked it much more, but still a bit uncompromising. 17.7/20 92/100
Jim Barry Florita Riesling 2010
Open. Expressive. Seems lovely and generous but maybe not quite classic. Warm year wine. Not my favourite bottle of this – it’s ripe and flat and a bit dull with fatter edges. 17/20 90/100+
Jim Barry Florita Riesling 2011
A wine of acidity. Slightly lumpy palate. Endless acidity. Hold! There is excellent length here, it just needs to fill out through the middle. All components, no form right now. 17.7/20 92/100+
Bracket 3 – Makings of PB
Jim Barry The McRae Wood Shiraz 2002
Mint. Deep nose. Choc- mint licorice. Luscious, oaky, alcoholic palate. Just a hint of caramel around the edges. So much energy still! Unequivocally choc mint Clare. Very deep. Effortlessly luscious and super resolved. Long, generous hearted red. Do you need to separate the Shiraz and Cabernet? 18.6/20 95/100
Jim Barry Benbournie Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
Cedar. Maturing nicely. Very linear. Super smooth and resolved. Lovely, warm hearted style. Maybe a little tart. So much Cabernet expressiveness! Lovely tannins too. Just lovely. 18.5/20 94/100
Jim Barry Pb Shiraz Cabernet 2002
Never released. A blend of the above wines.
Cedar. Maybe a little oddly caramel? Mid weight, composed. Still quite backward. Lots of tannins too. I think this is the least evolved wine of the three and curiously doesn’t work as well as either wine. Odd. 18.3/20 93/100+
Bracket 4 – The McRae Wood
Jim Barry The McRae Wood Shiraz 1998
Others around me loved this wine a helluva lot more than I did.
Fully evolved. Treacly. Would have seen a heap of oak in its day. Cocoa powder oak. Has a bit of that old Australian wine plummy chocolate sameness. A fraction dried out. A good old red but I want more resolve perhaps to really impress. 17.5/20 91/100
Jim Barry The McRae Wood Shiraz 1999
Olives. Brandy. A bit roasted and volatile. Just a bit burnt and figgy and lesser in this context. Lacks fruit. Flatter. Dud bottle. N/R
Jim Barry The McRae Wood Shiraz 03
Effectively declassified Armagh as none made in 03. Looks it too.
Super sweet. Like a chocolate Mars Bar in its oak sweetness. Super smooth and lusciousness. Proper tannins too – carries its shape nicely. Still very youthful. I love the decadence of this. Too sweet? Lovely flesh and oak red fruit and chocolate sweetness. 18.2/20 93/100
Jim Barry The McRae Wood Shiraz 2009
Very modern and flashy, and blackcurrant fruity juice. Finishes quite softly, even a little sweet. Surprisingly fragrant and lightly pressed. Too berried? Very pretty. Much more acidity in this. Grows on you. 18/20 93/100+
Jim Barry The McRae Wood Shiraz 2010
Very sweet fruited. Lots of berries. Not residual sweet or confected though. Berries in abundance. Very young and juicy. An earlier drinker but not actually that light – the tannins are fine and long. A real sleeper wine that every sip looked more finessed and clever. Very smart. Needs much more time and a good decant to open it up. 18.5/20 94/100+
Bracket 5 – Armagh
‘1 get 1 out of ten Armagh wrong’ says Peter Barry. He believes that the reason why the older Armagh look so good is that ‘we are Riesling winemakers who don’t like oxidation’, noting that ‘Stephen Henschke doesn’t like oxidation in his reds either’
Jim Barry Armagh Shiraz 1989
Fully resolved. Black tea. Sweet fruited. Condensed milk oak. Really sweet core of fruit. Gentle and attractive, if just a little raisined in its red fruit. Not complex but lovely. Really lovely. 18/20 93/100
Jim Barry Armagh Shiraz 1994
Choc mint and treacle. Leafy with a bit of slow cooked meat wildness. A slightly simple wine and finishes a little gruff. Not profound but a good enough drink. Starting to fall away. Attenuated finish. Lesser in this context. 17.5/20 91/100
Jim Barry Armagh Shiraz 1999
Intensely flavoured. Inky and massive. Tiny dark berries. Hot finish. So huge and liqueured licorice play-doh. Maybe a bit bourbon hot but impressive concentration. Super hero weight if a little boozy. Will live for another ten years yet. So impressive in its heroic, massively oaky, massively rich flavours, without losing tannic form. Quite brilliant. 18.6/20 95/100
Jim Barry Armagh Shiraz 2006
I’ve liked previous bottles of this wine much more.
Grilled nuts. Even warmer and brandied. 16% alcohol?? Too warm. Has spirity, almost fortified edge. Too hot? Oak is really dominant. The core underneath looks perfect but the alcohol and oak are harder than I’d want. Hmm. 17.7/20 92/100
Jim Barry Armagh Shiraz 2009
Butter menthol oak and volatiles. Looks rather more contained and so much less oaky this vintage. Great length. Very pretty but maybe a bit blanched and mono dimensional. Still rather more restrained than the 06 before it, if a little reductive. Maybe I’d like it less sweet fruited and more structured. But a mere pup. Give it time and this should be amongst the best Armagh. Utterly delicious. 18.5/20 94/100
Jim Barry Armagh Shiraz 10
‘A bit fresher’ according to Sam Barry ‘We think this is a perfect Armagh’. The first ever Armagh bottled only in screwcap.
Impressive. Shows its oak. But the under carriage is excellent. A restrained Armagh! Amazing. Certainly Grange level fruit quality without the Penfolds brand added tannins. Sneaky length. Very impressive, achingly young but near perfect in its huge richness and cosseting fruit. Bloody lovely. A wow wine.19/20 96/100
Bracket 6 – Odds and ends
Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 1999
A curio, brought out largely for trade events and not sold publically.
Evolved. Pizza shapes and tasty cheese. Lemon. Palate is fully round but a little decrepit. Falls away. Nice mid palate but not the penetration. 16.5/20 88/100
Jim Barry Florita Riesling 2012
Has that bright, unresolved, fruit sugar juiciness nose of so many 2012 Riesling. Lime tang palate with so much energy of acidity and tang. Wonderful wine really. Will make lovely old bones, if not quite a classic wine as its a little full. Reminds me of the 05 actually. 18/20 93/100+
Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 2012
I like this. Rather more generous lime lemon fruit and fragrance. Obvious perhaps but feels more classic Clare Valley in style and with that unmistakable, lime juicy Clare edge. Just a perfectly executed Riesling really. 18.5/20 94/100
Jim Barry Benbournie Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Beautiful. Just a lovely sweet chocolate and berry Clare deliciousness. Mint, fine flaky tannins. Maybe a little boozy? Very seductive though. Not as pretty a bottle as the 02 Benbournie but more dry and classic too. Love the hints of cedar and raspberry that make this very attractive. Clare Cabernet done very very good. 18.5/20 94/100
Jim Barry First XI Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Sourced from the Jim Barry Coonawarra vineyard
Lightly volatile, rather minty and a bit severe. Hint of raisin on the finish. Lots of Cabernet punch but just a little skinny. Needs to fill out more but has potential. Certainly carries its form but needs a little more composure to really impress. 17/20 90/100
Jim Barry Armagh Shiraz 2008
Very much a product of the vintage. Swathed in sweet fruit. Lots of ultra generous fruit in that sugar plum 08 style. Decadent but mono tone in its purple fruit. So much concentration. But not classic. 18/20 93/100
Jim Barry Armagh Shiraz 1992
We seemed to get the only decent bottle of 92 floating around at the tasting. A much underrated vintage for South Australian Shiraz.
Beautiful. Like a chocolate berry milkshake. Sweetened and juicy and fully complete. Caramel and fully resolved. Choc moccha muscat. Lovely. Just like liquid wine love. 18.5/20 94/100
Jim Barry Armagh Shiraz 1990
Smoky and fully resolved. Looks big and alcoholic. A little too boozy for me, the fruit can’t quite keep up, looking more good old red than great old Armagh. 16.8/20 89/100
Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 1998
A ring-in brought from the Barry family cellars. What a ring in it was too.
Moody, reserved, utterly Clare in its full minty cedar. Lovely uncompromised style, if not quite generous. Still quite perfect in its balance of power and structure. Nothing like it still around in Australia. I loved it. 18.6/20 95/100