McLaren Vale Scarce Earth 2011: Exceptional vintage or what?
‘”We’ve had a very good season and it looks like we are going to have a good year,” he said.
“There will be some really good quality fruit, hence quality wines, coming out of McLaren Vale for the 2011 vintage.”
McLaren Vale viticulturist Troy Ellicker, quoted in an article titled ‘Vintage Year for McLaren Vale Wine’
‘A wet and cool season resulted in disease pressures impacting to different degrees across the region. Management of powdery mildew was critical, and there was some early powdery mildew pressure on blocks that did not have the required frequency of sulfur spray. Fruit with powdery mildew tended to be weakened and be more susceptible to botrytis. Later harvested Shiraz was threatened by loss from botrytis.’ (read more)
Jodie Pain, Viticulture Coordinator, McLaren Vale Grape Wine & Tourism Association
‘This was a very ordinary and challenging vintage. The wines are not as rich and voluminous as one would usually expect. The wines are generally lighter and lower in alcohol. Technology and meticulous attention to detail allowed many good wines to be made with decent flavour development and balance. 5/10’
Langtons Vintage Report
It goes on and on (you can read more in Philip White’s typically insightful and wonderfully sceptical account here)…
Never before has McLaren Vale, a region that rarely faces major disease pressures, had to worry about widespread mildew and botrytis than in 2011.
I must say that, given the aforementioned negativity and mixed messages, I was genuinely looking forward to seeing what the Vale vignerons had produced. And I wasn’t disappointed…
A word of caution about that proclamation, however. As the Langtons vintage report suggests, good wines were made by good winemakers. Good winemakers, with good viticulturists, who were willing to drop fruit, leaf pluck, declassify and leave whole vineyards to the birds. It was a vintage where you needed to be out in the rows every day – spraying, trimming, thinning and essentially nursing your vines through a very stressful period.
If you didn’t have everything sorted in the vineyard and ended up with shit fruit, or indeed if you didn’t have the skills in the winery to pull it off, then the vintage really was as bad as the reports suggested.
Moreso, the wines are also quite different this year – that cooler, wetter summer meant that the grapes typically lacked the sugar sweetness and absolute flavour impact of a ‘normal’ year, resulting in wines that are lighter and often with more acidity than is typical for the Vale.
In some cases, particularly for wines produced from the warm and windy southern end of McLaren Vale around Sellicks Beach, the cooler season has helped inject the wines with an extra sense of delicacy that I really like – a delicacy that I thought was lacking in some of the 2010 wines. Conversely, botrytis and mildew rendered quite a few vineyards in the cooler, higher, and wetter northern end of McLaren Vale (around Clarendon) as complete write-offs in 2011.
Again, however, a word of caution – that last sentence is (another) generalisation in a vintage where generalisations are as problematic as ever. Personally, I’m still really conflicted, as for every great 2011 Scarce Earth Shiraz I tasted, another middling $20 2011 Vale red passes through the Ozwinereview tasting bench.
Ultimately, in this vintage I think there are but two rules to follow – try before you buy and make a beeline for the most astute, vineyard-focused producers. Is it a great vintage? No, and many of the cheap wines are hardly convincing. For the great producers, however, the results are even better than expected…
McLaren Vale – the most sustainable vineyards in the land?
Putting aside the vintage talk for just one minute, there is another, far more positive thing to discuss – sustainability. Whilst the notion of ‘sustainability’ (and the word itself) is somewhat overused in the wine industry, I think that – in McLaren Vale’s case at least – it has some resonance.
Much of the Vale sustainability push is focused on a scheme known as ‘McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing’, which is effectively a region-wide reporting and assessment program, allowing local growers to measure exactly how they perform in categories such as waste management, biodiversity, pest and disease management, social relations and social health.
This ‘vineyard report card’, as we’ll call it, is then compared to the regional ‘best practice’ indices, with growers then given ‘practical pathways’ to help their own vineyards to hit those regional high points.
Obviously, when viewed in isolation, such a program can seem like just another layer of subtle monitoring and quasi-regulation, yet given that it was written by a group of local growers, for local growers, the scheme seems to be well received.
Indeed the ultimate purpose of such a region-wide assessment program is simple – McLaren Vale wants to maintain/improve on its reputation as the source of the highest per litre wine exports of anywhere in Australia (as of 2011), with the thinking simply that if the quality of the vineyards (and by extension the fruit) is higher throughout the region, then naturally prices will go up and growers will prosper.
Dudley Brown, prominent local grower/winemaker and one of the drivers of both the Scarce Earth program and McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing, credits Warren Randall as one of the instigators of this push towards higher quality fruit, noting that many have been inspired by Warren’s ‘retooling’ of his Tinlin’s vineyard towards A and B grade grapes, with the resultant success because of it (read Dudley’s account here).
With some 145 vineyards – representing 38% of the McLaren Vale crush – now participating in this assessment program, it seems that many share the desire for best practice too. Indeed there is a suggestion that, in the future, only wines produced from vineyards in the McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing scheme (which is conducted in conjunction with not only local growers but also the GWRDC, the University of Adelaide and CSIRO) may be eligible for the McLaren Vale wine show, a notion that really pushes the initiative.
Obviously it is still early days – and we’re talking more about an assessment program than an actual action plan – but given the detail and the clear push towards best practice sustainable viticulture (now there is a buzzword heavy phrase!), I’ve got no doubt that McLaren Vale is well on the way to being crowned the most sustainable winegrowing region in the country.
The Scarce Earth Wines
What was most satisfying was to see how many single vineyard wines that I rated highly last year and again rated highly this year. Great wines really are made by the best grower/producers…
Oh and an interesting note – Michael Fragos (who helped coordinate this year’s Scarce Earth program) mentioned that a higher proportion of wines were rejected from 2011 than the 2010 vintage, with too much oak being the main criticism. In other words, this wasn’t a year for blooding new barrels, simply because the lighter fruit couldn’t cope with it.
Thankfully I didn’t encounter too many overoaked wines either with the balance largely quite good.
Plush. Redcurrant and high tones. Velvety palate but perhaps missing tannins. Lovely texture but needs more persistence and tannins to match the quite sweet, raspberry & cream lolly fruit. 17/20, 90/100
Redwind, Block 9, 28 Bayliss Rd, Whites Valley. Planted in 1996. Pressed off skins before dryness. Wine matured for 2 years in 2 yr old French oak. 14.8% alc. No fining or filtration. $45. 371 bottles produced. District 2.
Halifax Per Se Block Shiraz 2011
Per Se, 190 Binney Road Willunga. Planted in 1998. Wine spent 16 months in 5 year old French oak. $14% alc. $65. 400 bottles produced. District 3.
Chanticleer Block, Strout Road Willunga. Planted in 1988. Wine spent 16 months in five year old oak. No fining or filtration. 14.4% alc. $45. 800 bottles produced. District 3.
Braden’s Block, Main Road Willunga. Planted in 1972. Organic. Wine spent 20 months in five year old French oak. No fining or filtration. 14.% alc. $45. 692 bottles produced. District 3.
Serious wood presence. Chocolatey and nutty and very secondary. Bretty too. Interesting in its style, the flavours still quite attractive and lively, the tannins fine. Do you mark down the brett? I have slightly. Maybe a little warm and chocolatey. Lots of oak. 16.8/20, 89/100
Cellar Block, McMurtrie Road, McLaren Vale. Planted in 1996. Wine spent 18 months in 204 year old oak. 15% alc. No fining. $70. 2020 bottles produced. District 5.
Shingleback Unedited Shiraz 2011
Gummy, sweet chocolate oak. Meaty. Oak veneer. Resinous oak even. Soft, syrupy palate. A little too syrupy I feel but slurpable. Warm finish. Generous texture. 16.5/20 88/100
Raisined edges. Looks raisined and black and warm full stop actually. Little black bullets. Quite inky and a little full on. Alcohol? Good concentration but feels a little hindered by alcohol. Oak sticks out too. Still impresses in its power. 17.5/20, 91/100
Lifted and direct. Quite lifted and juicy palate too. A little warm and syrupy perhaps? Certainly pretty. Coconut chocolate oak. Finishes abruptly too. Needs more time. Oak tannins. 16/20, 87/100+
Road Block, 1 Chapel Hill Road. Planted in 1993. Wine spent 17 months in 18% new and the remainder 2-4 year old French oak. No fining or filtration.14.1% alc. $75. 3072 bottles produced. District 9.
Chapel Hill The Chosen House Block Shiraz 2011
Confected, meaty, skittish. Brackish and even a fraction bitter. Somewhat unwelcoming. Alcoholic and a bit firm. So uncompromising! This should come together. Much acid. Much flavour. Such an entrancing wine! Much to come. 18/20 93/100+
Coriole Galaxcidia Single Block Shiraz 2011
Galaxcidia Block, Chaffeys Rd. $50. Planted in 1998. Wine spent 15 months in 50% one year and 50% two year old French oak. Filtration only. 14% alc. 1560 bottles produced. District 9.
Big and jovial. There is pepper but also a little menthol. Short. Juicy but mono-dimensional. A little peppery and sour. Less of a fan. Big and boozy. Confected edges. 16.5/20, 88/100+
Oscborn 1C Block, Osborn Rd. $102. 2916 bottles produced. Planted in 1968. Wine spent 20 months in combination of French and Ameican oak, 2-13 year old oak. No fining or filtration. 15% alc. District 10.
d’Arenberg Piceous Lodestar Shiraz 2011
Volatile. Lifted. Alcoholic. Big meaty heart, loads of quite complex flavours. Big alcohol. Seriously impressive layers of complexity. 18/20, 93/100
Wistmosa McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011
Pretty, oak pretty even. Pretty red fruit. So gentle and open and cosseting. Very modern. Plush and delicious. Too fleshy? Lovely. Lovely fruit to finish. 18/20, 93/100
d’Arenberg Blind Tiger Shiraz 2011
Sausage meat. Willowy. Lots of slightly wild flavours here! Lovely meaty and bones complexity. Divisively meaty. Wonderful length. 18.8/20, 95/100
Lean, white pepper. Very even. A fraction lean. Nice flow but a little bitter. Just mid-weight. Want more. 16.7/20, 89/100+
Blewitt Springs Block, Schuller Road, Blewitt Springs. Planted in 2000. Wine spent 12 months in four year old French oak. 14.1% alc. $45. 3600 bottles produced. District 12.
Lifted squish berry fruit. Boysenberry. Not a heap of persistence. Licoricey and a little herbal. Expect a more bitter finish but its light and juicy. A little bitter. Slightly odd. 15.8/20, 86/100
Gemtree Uncut Shiraz 2011
Powdery, chocolate powder. Plenty of oak. So much chocolatey oak and fruit! Could very much be a 2010 with that sort of sweet choc confection. Is it too sweet though? A little ‘made’? 17.5/20, 91/100
Mr Riggs Shiraz 2011
Western Block, 41 Penny’s Hill Rd. $50. 1800 bottles produced. Planted in 1992 and 1996. Wine spent 18 months in 1-4 year old French and American oak. No fining. 14.5% alc. District 18.
Penny’s Hill Block, 41 Penny’s Hill Rd. $65. 3100 bottles produced. Planted in 1991. Wine spent 18 months in 1-4 year old French and American oak. No fining. 14.5%. District 18.