Q: Have you noticed any trends among the wines this year?
A: ‘The quality of the 2015 vintage in South Australia and Victoria’.
That’s James Halliday, talking trends in an article on the Wine Companion website. Now, as much as I respect Halliday, I’m not with him on the uniform glory of the 2015 harvest in South Australia and Victoria, especially having lived it on the ground.
I don’t want to go too far into the broad generalisations (like Halliday did, cough), but this was anything but a straightforward vintage for many makers.
In South Australia, for example, they had a warm spring (and early budburst), then one of the coolest January’s on record, then a scorching (2.5C above average) February and March that pushed things along in a hurry. For some makers – like d’Arenberg – this resulted in one of the earliest harvests on record, with the Barry family in the Clare Valley also amazed they were picking fruit in February (rather than March).
Logistically, the challenge in South Australia was everything ripening all at once in February (I saw Barossa Cabernet and Shiraz picked on the same day when normally they’d be 3 weeks apart) making fermentation space a premium, and lots of grapes either left out there or harvested early/late. Ugh.
If you were on top of your vineyard, had plenty of winery space and could pick when you want then it wasn’t such a problem. You just made ripe wines. Otherwise? Tricky. The ’15s from many South Australian makers can thus be big, generous and lusciously smooth (and it’s a great Grenache year) or they can be cooked, with massive alcohols to match.
By contrast, in the cooler parts of Victoria (like the Yarra) 2015 is almost uniformly praised, with the cool January and slightly cooler (than the Barossa) conditions making the rush not quite as wild. A year for reds, rather than whites, but the early Pinot and Shiraz look absolutely glorious. A 10/10 vintage for sure. Again, however, if you had a warmer site you would be facing just the same issues as anywhere else with a challenging, condensed harvest.
Straight away you can see just how pointless it is to make a sweeping vintage generalisation – and makes that statement above from Halliday look short-sighted. So many regions! So many different climates! Maybe he was just pleasantly surprised that they’re better than expected? Or perhaps I’m just a cynical bastard not willing to go all in on a vintage? You be the judge, but for mine, this is a variable year for many producers in the warmer parts of South Australia/Victoria.
Anyway, here are a few SA/Vic reds that have nailed it in 2015. I’ll publish a whole lot more 2015 vintage red reviews tomorrow.
Oh and the photo further up the page? That’s early March 2015 on the Barossa floor. Oh yes, it was dry and warm…
Sidewood Estate Mappinga Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2015
Sidewood continue to make a stamp with Shiraz and Chardonnay, and this ’15 is another standout. Sourced from the Sidewood vineyard at the top of Onkaparinga Valley in the Adelaide Hills, this includes 25% whole bunches in the ferment and matured for 18 months in 35% new oak. There’s a gently oaky, molten character to this Shiraz that is ripe and equivocally full-bodied, but complemented by plenty of whole bunch spice and no excess. Really captures that meaty, licoricey, bigger Adelaide Hills style and with some complexity. Gold medal quality. Best drinking: 2017-2030. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14.5%, $60. Would I buy it? I’d go a bottle. Not cheap, but has depth.
Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015
A classic McLaren Vale red, again in the plusher form (which Chapel Hill do really well). Inky purple, the dense nose has deep, milk chocolate coated plum fruits, the deliciously ripe palate carrying round, incredibly generous purple fruit flavours and fine tannins. All fruit, with an excellent depth of flavour and surprisingly no heat. Well done, if just a perhaps too bold for me to drink a whole bottle. Best drinking: 2017-2030. 18/20, 93/100. 14.5%, $30. Would I buy it? I’d go a few glasses. Massive recommendation for big red lovers though.
Balgownie Bendigo Sparkling Shiraz 2015
I’m a sucker for sparkling Shiraz and this is such a beauty. Sweet red and black berry fruit, vanilla oak and a seemingly endless choc berry flow. It’s a bolder, riper style of sparkling Shiraz (elegance isn’t the game here), but with pure hedonism, depth of flavour and real tannins. It does feel like a red with bubbles than a true sparkling Shiraz, but gee it’s delicious. Will likely be even better in a year or two when it settles down further, as it’s just a little too overt, too big, too sweet fruited for absolute smashability. Best drinking: 2018-2028+. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 14.5%, $35. Would I buy it? Yes, yum.
Wirra Wirra Church Block McLaren Vale Red Blend 2015
Nailed it. Church Block is super important to Wirra Wirra, and this ’15 is seriously good wine given the price and wide availability. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (51%), Shiraz (36%) and Merlot (13%), matured in 70/30 French/American oak for 18 months. What handling for a $22 red! It’s full of slippery blackberry and red berries, even with a rather firm finish. A real Cabernet presence this year, complete with a dash of varietal cedar for good measure. It’s not a slick wine, but that heartiness and length is so very good for the dollars. Maybe a little warm on the finish? A quibble. Even on day two this was in good form. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14.5%, $22. Would I buy it? I’d drink a few glasses for sure.